Yesterday, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Palestine as its 195th member. The US immediately announced it would no longer fund UNESCO. Laws from 1990 and 1994 prohibit American financing of any UN organization that recognizes Palestine as a member. That means a quarter of UNESCO’s funding, beginning with $60 million scheduled for this month, will dry up. Although the Obama Administration will try to find ways to support UNESCO in other ways, State Department attorneys see the US law prohibiting funding for UNESCO as air-tight, and UNESCO is prohibited from using any ‘extra’ funding for operations.
The Israeli reaction:
The Israeli ambassador, Nimrod Barkan, said that Unesco had done “a great disservice” to international efforts to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. “Unesco deals in science, not in science fiction,” he said, noting that a Palestinian state is not otherwise recognized by the international community. Unesco, he said, had acted on a “political subject outside of its competence.”
The Palestinian reply:
Washington has to look at these laws that should have been changed ages ago,” said Muhammad Shtayyeh, a close aide to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. “The P.L.O. is not a terrorist organization anymore. It exchanged letters of recognition with Israel back in 1993.”
Both Democrats and Republicans blamed the Palestinians for throwing yet another obstacle into the peace process. First, UNESCO membership is separate from the peace process, so why all the fuss? Second, both the Palestinians and Israelis have pledged to present their respective views of borders to the Quartet (US, EU, Russian and UN), the unofficial lead agency, replacing the US, within 3 months. This is a step forward for peace that came in the wake of the Palestinian UN bid for statehood. UNESCO membership doesn’t affect the Quartet process one way or another.
In other news concerning Palestinian statehood, it appears the US has rounded up enough ‘no’ votes on the Security Council to deny the Palestinian petition without a US veto.
The Quartet this week laid out a challenge to both parties, Israel and Palestine, that they come up with boundary maps within a three month time-line imposed by the Quatet. Both agreed. In the past, these types of demands were made behind-the-scenes and no transparency or public accountability.
Finally, in her new book former Secretary of State Condi Rice admits surprise that the Obama Administration did not follow-up on the significant progress she, former Israeli PM Olmert, and PA President Abbas made in resolving some of the thorniest issues of peace in the last months of the Olmert Administratioin. Instead, the Obama Administration chose to ignore the past and begin at zero.
This was an unforgivable strategic error on the part of the Obama Administration. The Olmert/Rice/Abbas negotiations, and what they agreed to, is well-known in Israeli political circles. Obama could have insisted that negotiations under his leadership start from the Olmert/Rice base. He didn’t, and now the world sees Israel as a state unwilling to engage peace as attempted by former PMs Barak and Olmert. Instead, Israel is seen as a ‘refusnik’ pariah state unwilling to accept legitimate interests on the part of Palestinian and unable to compromise.