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UN General Assembly hall
Photo: Israel Azmon
Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova
Photo: AP
UNESCO, US at odds ahead of PA vote
US threatens to pull UN's Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization's $70M funding if it accepts PA's request for full membership despite objections

The United Nations' Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization is facing crisis over its pending vote on the Palestinian Authority's requests to become a full member.

 

The US and Europe announced Friday that they are stepping up diplomatic efforts to avoid a UNESCO debacle that could see the UN body lose tens of millions of dollars in funding if its members vote in favor of the Palestinian bid.

 

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The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization convened in New York on Tuesday for its general assembly, where it is set to vote on the Palestinian status request. But while as a permanent UN Security Council member the US has veto power – no one has a veto at UNESCO, where a two-thirds majority of its 193 voting members suffices.

 

Arab states braved intense US and French diplomatic pressure to bring the motion before UNESCO's Executive Committee, which passed it with a vote of 40 to four, with 14 abstentions. The four nay votes came from the US, Germany, Romania and Latvia, while the majority of EU nations abstained.

 


Compromising vote. The UN hall (Photo: AFP) 

 

The PA currently has observer status at UNESCO and Palestinian officials claim that Ramallah would have "no problem" garnering the required votes to become a full member.

 

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki is to address the assembly ahead of the vote, which has been set for Monday.

 

Flexing monetary muscles

Should UNESCO pass the PA's motion, the move would spark a crisis between Washington and the UN body, which the US. Washington boycotted UNESCO between 1984 and 2003, over what the State Department calls "growing disparity between US foreign policy and UNESCO goals."

 

There are currently two acts in the US which laws ban the financing of any United Nations organization that accepts Palestine as a full member, meaning a favorable UNESCO vote would cause it to lose its US funding – $70 million – which makes up 22% of its annual budget.

 

US State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday that should UNESCO forge ahead with the vote it would see "serious repercussions… We've made the point that there are very clear red lines in US legislation,” Nuland said.

 

"There's no chance that a Republican-controlled Congress is going to amend that legislation," a diplomatic source at UNESCO said.

 

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called UNESCO's moves towards accepting Palestine

as a full member "confusing" and "inexplicable", has tasked Middle East envoy David Hale with

negotiating a way out of the impasse.

 

US ambassador to UNESCO David Killion has said that "granting the Palestinians full membership now in a specialized agency such as UNESCO is premature" and several European countries, including France, agree.

 

The European nations, on their part, want to convince the Palestinians to be satisfied with joining three UNESCO conventions, including on World Heritage, which is possible for a non-member state.

 

Such a move would allow the Palestinians to submit requests for recognition of potential World Heritage sites, including those in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

 

PA petition cross-grained

The Palestinians, however, are refusing to relent on their demand to join UNESCO, despite the mounting opposition to it: "Joining the conventions won't be enough for the Palestinians. There has to be something more," a UNESCO source said.

 

"The key is finding a solution that does not divide UNESCO, allows it to keep functioning and takes the Palestinians' desires into account," he added.

 

Still, the Palestinian Maan news agency quoted Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki as saying that the UNESCO vote was a "small battle leading to the big battle in the Security Council." The UN Security Council is set to debate the Palestinian membership bid in mid November.

 

"We are working hard to counter American pressure on poor countries to discourage them from voting for us”, al-Malki said.

 

UNESCO is the first official UN body the Palestinian Authority has sought to join since applying for full membership of the United Nations.

 

The UNESCO Charter enables it to accept such motions regardless of their UN status.

 

AFP and news agencies contributed to this report

 

 

 

 

 

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