WASHINGTON – The United States said on Monday that it had stopped its funding of UNESCO, the UN cultural agency, following its vote to grant the Palestinians full membership.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters the United States had no choice but to halt funding because of longstanding US law, saying Washington would not make a planned $60 million transfer that was due in November.
Earlier Monday, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization became the first UN agency to grant the Palestinian Authority a full-member status.
The vote was carried 107-14 despite Washington's explicit warning that it would pull its financial support of the agency. The United States provides about 22% of UNESCO's funding.
The United States, Canada and Germany voted against Palestinian membership, while Brazil, Russia, China, India, South Africa and France voted in favor and Britain abstained. Unlike in the UN Security Council, none of UNESCO's members have veto power over its decisions.
While the vote is a landmark for the PA, it bears little impact on the issue of an eventual Palestinian state.
US President Obama and PA President Abbas (Photo: Reuters)
Following the vote, a US State Department spokesperson warned of the ramifications of the vote, stating that "this application is premature, distracts us from our shared goal of direct negotiations that result in a secure Israel and an independent Palestine living peacefully side by side, and could force significant cuts to UNESCO's budget."
Israel's Envoy to UNESCO, Nimrod Barkan, called the vote tragic: ""UNESCO deals in science, not science fiction," he said. "The Palestinians have forced… a drastic cut in contributions to UNESCO."
Meanwhile, officials in Jerusalem expressed concern that UNESCO's decision will set a precedent: The Foreign Ministry announced that Israel
is rejecting UNESCO's decision and "will now have to review its ongoing relations with the organization."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his concern over Washington's decision to cut UNESCO's funding, saying the move may also affect the funding granted to the agency by other nations.
Washington said that the UNESCO admission has paved the way for the Palestinians to seek World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) membership. State Department officials are scheduled to meet with various WIPO-related executives, to warn them of the possible ramifications of a similar WIPO vote in favor of the PA.
Elior Levy and Reuters contributed to this report