Palestine vote: America the loser as it withdraws funding from UNESCO

The Palestinian delegation to UNESCO await the outcome of the vote on membership. AAP

The United States announced last Monday that it would refuse to pay its 2011 funding commitment to the United Nations' lead cultural and educational body following that organisation’s decision to admit Palestine as a full member.

Worth $US60 million ($A56.6 million) the annual contribution provides 22% of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) Member State levied contributions to its regular budget .

The announcement followed shortly after the UNESCO General Conference of its 194 Member States decided that morning to admit Palestine as its 195th Member by an overwhelming 107 in favor to 14 votes against – with 52 abstentions.

Lined up in favor of Palestine’s admission were Russia, China, Greece, Turkey, Brazil, France, Belgium and Austria amongst many others. Against, were the US, Israel, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Poland and Australia along with seven others. Portugal, Colombia, Bosnia-Herzogovina, and the UK abstained as did 48 other Member States.

Statehood by stealth?

The Palestinian Authority had earlier this year sought to gain entry to the United Nations through application for full UN membership via the UN Security Council.

Confronting an automatic veto from the United States, the Palestine Authority instead shifted focus in September to a “backdoor” entry point, that is, membership of one of the United Nations specialised agencies, UNESCO.

Through established “reciprocated agreements” between these Agencies, membership of one entitles the Member State to apply for membership of the others, for example, the United Nations Industrial Development Agency (UNIDO), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), the International Criminal Court (which the US does not financially support), the world telecommunications body (ITU), aviation (ICAO) and atomic energy (IAEA) organisations.

Entry to this wider field of UN Agencies is likely to be relatively unproblematic: already, 62% of the world’s Member States present in UNESCO ’s General Conference voted for Palestine’s admission to UNESCO; after subtracting the Member States which abstained, 88% of the world’s UN Member States have voted in favour. So obtaining the required simple majority or, in some cases, two-thirds majority required for wider memberships appears readily achievable.

The American paradox

Continued Israeli settlement building is seen by many as a driver for the Palestinian push for statehood. AAP