Posted by on October 31, 2011 in Blog

Earlier this morning, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted 107 to 14 to approve a Palestinian bid for full membership, despite longstanding provisions of U.S. law that would withdraw all U.S. funds from any U.N. body that recognizes the Palestinian state.

As a result of the vote, UNESCO will lose 22% of its funding–about $70 million per year–and the U.S. will effectively withdraw from the body entirely. The primary mission of UNESCO – aside from its well-known designation of World Heritage Sites – is “to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information.”

In addition to the significant damage that the U.S. withdrawal would do to UNESCO’s extremely important work, and the negative effects this will have on Washington’s already tarnished international reputation, our withdrawal from UNESCO will also have grave repercussions to our own economy. UNESCO contracts a number of U.S. firms for much of its development work, and its intellectual property arm is a key pillar in resolving international IP disputes.

And yet, despite the disproportionate fallout that will doubtless ensue from Congress’s gesture, and despite the fact that the intended purpose of the funding threat has clearly failed (the Palestinians show no sign of stopping their campaign, and U.N. agencies aren’t backing down), there are few signs of any attempt to appeal of the bill, or claim a waiver in order to continue funding UNESCO.

In fact, Reps. Steve Israel (D-NY) and Tom Cole (R-OK) circulated a Dear Colleague letter last week urging Congress not to repeal the law, and supporting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s measures to continue to isolate Palestine.

Remarkably, the letter to Secretary Clinton lays out all the problems of the bill, without even considering that it might be doing more harm than good:

UNESCO is responsible for many projects that the United States believes strongly in, including the promotion of literacy and education programs in Afghanistan, programs that support the advancement of women and girls, and efforts to protect free speech around the globe. Furthermore, UNESCO also supports American businesses, introducing expanding Third World markets to companies such as Cisco, Intel, and Microsoft. If the United States were forced to stop contributing financially to UNESCO, it would be a loss to communities around the globe, including within the United States.

Israel and Cole also recognize the most troublesome aspect of this whole fiasco; that as it stands, the bill effectively allows Palestine to force the U.S. to withdraw from all U.N. bodies that recognize it. As the PA seeks membership in more agencies, the letter admits, “the United States will be forced to end their financial support of these programs as well, severely diminishing the United States’ influence in global decisions.”

Despite all of these consequences, Congress appears unlikely to modify or repeal the bill, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, has introduced a new U.N. Reform Bill that actually strengthens the existing law by applying additional stipulations to cut off our funding commitments to the U.N.

We’ve written countless times in the past about Washington’s blind support for Israel, but this might really take the cake. Despite fully recognizing the widespread damage that withdrawal from UNESCO will cause, Congress appears to consider it a bygone conclusion that we must support a hardline pro-Israeli position at all costs, no matter the consequences. The irony is, of course, in the end, it is the United States who will suffer most from such a decision. It is we who will lose influence, money, and legitimacy on the international stage. And that’s not to mention the loss of support to the millions around the world who benefit from – and sometimes depend on – the poverty-eradication and development work of UNESCO.


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