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UNESCO welcomes the Palestinians — at a price

After losing some of the limelight in the past fortnight due to the Israel-Hamas deal for the release of Gilad Shalit, the “official” Palestinian leadership of Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas bounced back yesterday. In a boost to the campaign for UN membership, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) voted to admit Palestine as its 195th member.

Unlike UN membership itself, UNESCO membership doesn’t require a security council recommendation and therefore isn’t subject to a veto.

It required a two-thirds majority of those present and voting, and got it easily: 107 in favour to 14 against, with the rest abstaining or not voting.

The 14 dissenters included Israel and the United States, plus several the latter’s closest allies — including Australia. Five EU members voted against (Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands and Sweden), but 11 supported membership (including France and Spain) and the other 11 abstained (including Italy, Poland and the UK). (I’m working off Wikipedia’s list, which is consistent with news reports but more comprehensive.)

If those votes were repeated at the security council it would give the Palestinians the nine affirmative votes they need, forcing the US to use its veto to prevent a recommendation being made to the general assembly — where, as everyone concedes, it would be approved. But France at least has suggested that it will go the other way when UN membership itself is at issue.

This will be an expensive move for UNESCO, since the US immediately announced that it would mean an end to its funding contribution, which amounts to around 20% of UNESCO’s budget. A 1990 law forbids funding any agency “which accords the Palestine Liberation Organisation the same standing as member states”, and the Obama administration is clearly in no mood to try to interpret its way out of that. There has been no sign that Australia will follow suit.

But while it’s one thing to argue that Palestinian membership for UN agencies is counter-productive and a step backward in the peace process — a perfectly respectable argument, albeit one I disagree with — there’s something terribly lopsided about taking this one issue, above myriad other things UNESCO might do, to justify a funding cut.

The US has had troubles with UNESCO before. In 1984 it withdrew from the organisation, followed by the UK, over what it saw as its extreme left-wing stance, notably in relation to the so-called “New World Information and Communication Order”. But it rejoined in 2003, after internal reforms and changing ideological currents had rendered the dispute moot.

Compared to the issues at stake then, membership for Palestine looks trivial. (It is not, incidentally, the first non-UN-member to be admitted; the two New Zealand dependencies of the Cook Islands and Niue are also in UNESCO.) But for Likud and its supporters in the US, anything that confers legitimacy on the Palestinians is seen as an existential threat that has to be fought with everything at their disposal.

If UNESCO’s work suffers as a result, it will merely join the long list of worthy causes held hostage to the twists of America’s domestic politics.

8
  • 1
    Delerious
    Posted Tuesday, 1 November 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    A good clear and concise article with the facts. A little biased maybe but at least it has put all the relevant information in.

  • 2
    oompiet
    Posted Tuesday, 1 November 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    You state that “But while it’s one thing to argue that Palestinian membership for UN agencies is counter-productive and a step backward in the peace process — a perfectly respectable argument, albeit one I disagree with ” but you don’t expand on why you disagree with it - What possible reasons could you have for such a view , given that at this stage , the Palestinians do not see Israel as viable two state solution and will stop at nothing to see it destroyed ?

  • 3
    Lambikins
    Posted Tuesday, 1 November 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    of course they should be allowed to participate. I wrote on similar issues here: http://pseudopundits.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/battle-of-the-inches/

  • 4
    Kevin Herbert
    Posted Tuesday, 1 November 2011 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    OOMPIET:

    To claim that there is a peace process is palpably naive.

    There hasn’t been one since the Shas party accolytes murdered the
    then Israeli PM Rabin. FYI, Shas are a major player in Benny N’s
    current parliamentary gang.

    All US & Israeli claims of the Oslo Accords etc etc are part of the
    US/AIPAC/Israeli disinformation campaign of the past 20 years.

    Check out the Jewish intellectual Dr Norman Finkelstein’s chapter &
    verse rebuttal onYou Tube, of the peace process charade.

  • 5
    Charles Richardson
    Posted Tuesday, 1 November 2011 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    @Oompiet - no, I’m afraid I can’t cover everything at once; I wrote a bit on the statehood bid a few weeks ago: http://www.crikey.com.au/2011/09/23/what-barack-obama-couldnt-do-in-the-middle-east/ . Briefly, I see no evidence for your claim that the Palestinians don’t see Israel as part of a two-state solution: polls have repeatedly shown that they do, Abbas certainly maintains that very strongly, and even Hamas says it is willing to recognise Israel’s de facto sovereignty. But even if we assume you’re right and I’m wrong on that, it doesn’t follow that recognition of Palestinian statehood is the wrong way to go. If you think the Palestinians are bluffing on willingness to live with Israel, why not call the bluff, rather than keep conceding them the moral high ground?

  • 6
    CML
    Posted Tuesday, 1 November 2011 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    I am devastated that Australia voted against Palestine joining UNESCO.
    and would like to disassociate myself from their action.
    NOT IN MY NAME, PM Gillard.

  • 7
    Bo Gainsbourg
    Posted Tuesday, 1 November 2011 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if the withdrawal of U.S. cash will hobble UNESCO…it probably will but in some ways make it less beholden also. Meantime I’m waiting for the U.S. to strongly attack the Egyptian military for murdering Coptic Christians. This is their big chance to strongly show they are for democracy and against dictatorship.

  • 8
    Kevin Herbert
    Posted Wednesday, 2 November 2011 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    BO GAINSBOURG: just as in Syria, the US/Israeli tactic is to destablise
    the incumbent ruling group, via financing radical Islamists to do their
    dirty work

    This has been the stock in trade of the US & Israel for decades in the
    Middle East e.g. Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan.

    The Arab Spring has left the Israeli far right government, and its backers
    at AIPAC in Washington, with nowhere to turn as their dominance over the
    region which is being challenged for the first time since 1948.

    When push comes to shove, the US has no option but to agree with
    the tactic., given that the US Congress is owned by AIPAC.

    Just in case you think my views are wild speculation, check out the
    following YouTube post from a speech in 2003 to the US Congress
    by current Republican Presidential candidate Senator Ron Paul:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0N0iqUiaTs&feature=related

    To think that the Australian major political parties support such a
    massive anti-democratic, criminal enterprise, is shameful, and one
    day in the not too distant future, they will have to explain their actions
    to Aussie voters.

    Finally, despite the concerted attempt by leading left & right wing
    media to refuse to cover Ron Paul’s 2012 Presidential campaign,
    he is right up in the top 3 candidates, with his poll numbers growing.
    His 2 key messages are to bring home all US troops from around the globe, the dat after he’s elected, and to wind up the US Federal Reserve bank, which is controlled
    by the global banking elites.

    I disagree with Charles Richardson’s view expressed in an earlier post
    that Senator Paul cannot winthe 2012 Republican nomination.
    He will, and will go on to defeat that lame duck Barack Obama.

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