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Thread: UNESCO votes to admit Palestine; US cites special relationship with Israel cuts off funding to UN agency

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    UNESCO votes to admit Palestine; US cites special relationship with Israel cuts off funding to UN agency


    UNESCO votes to admit Palestine; US cites special relationship with Israel cuts off funding to UN agency

    By Colum Lynch, Updated: Monday, October*31

    NEW YORK — The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted Monday to admit Palestine into the organization as its newest member, and the United States promptly responded by cutting off funding for the agency.

    Acting under a legal requirement to cut U.S. funds to any U.N. agency that recognizes a Palestinian state, the State Department on Monday announced that the United States has stopped funding UNESCO because of the vote. Department spokesman Victoria Nuland told reporters that the Obama administration would not make a planned $60 million payment to the agency due in November.

    The vote at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters follows a stalled effort by the Palestinians to seek recognition as a U.N. member state. It signaled that the Palestinians intend to pursue membership in a number of U.N. specialized agencies, which have their own rules for membership and where the United States does not have veto power.

    U.S. and Israeli officials said the Palestinian membership bid would roil a U.S.-backed effort to restart a stalled peace process. The Palestinians maintain that they are prepared to return to talks if certain conditions are met, including a halt to Israel’s expansion of settlements, and that they have every right to pursue membership at the United Nations.

    The vote came amid a surge of cross-border violence between Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli military. Gaza militants fired several rockets into Israel on Monday after an Israeli drone strike overnight left two Palestinians dead, as Egypt continued its efforts to mediate an end to the violence.

    The UNESCO membership bid, which required approval by a two-thirds majority of the agency’s General Conference, easily passed by a vote of 107 to 14, with 52 abstentions.

    Huge cheers erupted in the Paris meeting hall when the Palestinian membership was approved, news agencies reported. With 173 UNESCO member delegations present, 81 votes were needed to admit the Palestinians. France cast a surprise “yes” vote, drawing cheers and applause from the delegates, while the United States, Israel, Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany were among those voting “no.”

    The approval opens the door for the Palestinians also to gain membership in the World Intellectual Property Organization(WIPO), the U.N. Industrial Development Organization(UNIDO) and the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which admit entities that belong to another specialized U.N. agency. The United States is not a member of UNIDO.

    But UNESCO’s decision also triggered a pair of U.S. laws from the early 1990s that prohibit the United States from funding U.N. agencies that recognize the Palestinians.

    The United States provides UNESCO with more than $80 million a year, covering about 22 percent of its budget and making any cutoff painful.

    Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, expressed disappointment with Washington’s stance on the UNESCO vote and its intention to cut funding to the agency.*

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    It would be a brilliant move by the Obama administration and Congress to stop funding the UN organizations. Because unless you actually help foot the bill no one really listens to what you have to say.

    Few people would be happier over a US withdrawal from UNESCO than the Palestinians.

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