US and Israel withdraw from UNESCO

26th Oct 2017
US and Israel withdraw from UNESCO

Nadine Oman

The US State Department announced on September 12 that the US was withdrawing from UNESCO due to the UN body’s of “anti-Israel bias”.

The State Department says it will now have an “observer mission” to replace its representation at UNESCO.

Israel called the US administration’s decision “courageous and moral” and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement it too “ instructed the foreign ministry to prepare Israel’s withdrawal from the organisation.”

However, Secretary-General of the Palestinian National Initiative, Mustafa Barghouti, said the decision to withdraw from UNESCO demonstrates the President Trump’s administration’s “complete and total bias” towards Israel.

“This behaviour is counterproductive and shameful, sooner or later they will see Palestine in every UN agency. Will the US respond to that by withdrawing from the WHO [World Health Organisatio] or the World Intellectual Property Organisation? They will be hurting only themselves,” said Barghouti.

Barghouti added it is “as if Israel is dictating US policy not only in the Middle East but also in international organisations. This is going to have a very harmful effect on the idea of the US being a mediator between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

Irina Bokova, the outgoing UNESCO head, called the US withdrawal a “loss to multilateralism”, saying she is convinced that “UNESCO has never been so important for the US, or the US for UNESCO”.

At a time when “conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack,” she said.

The US was angered in 2011 when UNESCO members granted Palestine full membership of the body, despite opposition from its ally Israel.

That year the US stopped paying its dues to the 195-member organisation but did not officially withdraw.

The US opposes any move by UN bodies to recognise the Palestinians as a state, insisting that this must await a negotiated Middle East peace deal.

UNESCO is known for its work to preserve heritage, including maintaining a list of World Heritage sites, and programmes to promote education in developing countries.

The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, said he “regrets this development deeply”.

Israel has long been at loggerheads with UNESCO, over its decision to admit the Palestinians as members in 2011. In July, the UN body declared the Old City of Hebron in the occupied West Bank an endangered World Heritage site.

Netanyahu announced a $1m cut in funding to the UN, saying the UNESCO vote ignored Jewish ties to the site. A UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem in May strongly criticised Israel’s occupation of the eastern part of the city.

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