U.S. and Israel withdraw from UNESCO citing "anti-Israel" bias

15 October, 2017, 01:01 | Author: Garry Little
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Currently, 23 places in the USA are on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites, though nothing American appears in the organization's list of "intangible cultural heritage". What possible reason could the United States have for quitting an organization devoted to culture and science? However, this is what U.S. was reduced to anyway after it pulled funding in 2011. "And do we want to pay more money going forward". In October 2011, UNESCO admitted the Palestinian territories to the organization as an independent member-state called Palestine. The Obama administration said it had to cut funds because a 1990s-era law prohibits US funding for any United Nations agencies recognizing Palestine as a state. By the end of this calendar year, the unpaid US bill will amount to $550 million.

In 2012, the United States was peeved at a decision not to expel Syria from UNESCO's human rights committee after the civil war began. The officials were not authorized to be publicly named discussing the issue.

"It's as if a couple who had been living apart for years finally agreed to a divorce", says Richard Gowan, a scholar at the European Council on Foreign Relations who studies the UN.

The organisation is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions, but also works to improve education for girls, promote understanding of the Holocaust's horrors, and to defend media freedom. "But I don't believe it's part of a broader pattern of disengagement by this administration".

Some of these things, like supporting global Holocaust education, are really important.

The country accused the body of "anti-Israel bias". Let's make United States the most selfish country on earth again. The Reagan administration withdrew from the organisation in 1984 - accusing the agency of corruption and an ideological bias towards the then Soviet Union - but the USA rejoined in 2002.

Although it's tempting to dismiss the withdrawal as another display of the Trump administration's United Nations -bashing, there's certainly room to criticize UNESCO. The United States and Israel were among just 14 of 194 members that voted against admitting the Palestinians. The reason given was UNESCO's anti-Israeli bias.

This funding cutoff is severe enough that UNESCO has been forced to cut back both on irrelevant bloat and the extremely valuable environmental and educational activities.

The U.S. will remain as an observer. Thus the major effect will only be in formal titles.

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Although Washington supports a future independent Palestinian state, it says this should emerge out of peace talks and it considers it unhelpful for worldwide organisations to admit Palestine until negotiations are complete.

It's possible, though, that the symbolism of formal U.S. withdrawal could actually makes things even worse.

The United States has pulled out of UNESCO before.

"One concern for the organization might be whether the U.S. move prompts a few others to leave or to be slow on their payments", Bosco worries. It will become a mere "observer state", with no dues paid and no contribution to how the organization is run.

It might also encourage UNESCO members to punish the USA by antagonizing it further on Israel-Palestine issues.

An Arab-backed UNESCO resolution a year ago condemned Israeli's policies at religious sites in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It's easy to imagine UNESCO voting to take more actions like this in the future.

"We hope the USA will take the decision to stay within UNESCO", France's United Nations ambassador, Francois Delattre said in an interview Wednesday.

Ultimately, though, it seems unlikely that the Trump administration cares all that much about this.

"Sadly, the group of countries that Qatar and Mr. Al-Kawari join in these efforts have, in recent years, hijacked the UNESCO agenda to introduce and adopt abhorrent resolutions denying the Jewish and Christian religious connections to holy sites in Israel and pushing baseless claims of Israeli acts to destroy Muslim holy sites under its protection", the statement said.


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