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Palestine joins UNESCO, US withdraws funding

Darren Edgar

November 20, 2011

On October 31, Palestinians were granted full membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This comes after their application for membership in the United Nations General Assembly on September 23.

Considering how long, and ultimately unsuccessful, the process for membership in the General Assembly is likely to be, the Palestinians’ last-minute bid for membership in UNESCO, based upon an initial submission from 1989, has been interpreted by many as an attempt to increase the profile of the struggle for Palestinian statehood. But even painted merely as a symbolic gesture, this attempt by Palestinians for greater international recognition has been met with swift retaliation by the usual suspects. Canada and the United States both voted against the motion, continuing to march in lock-step with Israel.

Under the pretext of a law passed by its Congress in 1990 which, according to Natasha Mozgovaya of the Associated Press, “[restricts] funding to UN bodies that recognize Palestine as a state before an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is reached,” the US promised to immediately withdraw funding from UNESCO, some $80 million, or more than 20 per cent of its annual budget. However the US claimed it would still remain a member of the UN cultural agency, while Israel threatened to end involvement with UNESCO entirely.


For its part Canada made it clear that, unlike in recent times past, it would not increase its financial commitment to make up for the budgetary shortfall caused by the US funding withdrawal. Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, John Baird, said, “The bottom line is there is going to be a large hole in UNESCO’s budget because of the American law which withdraws funding. And UNESCO should not look to Canada to fill that budget hole. They’ll have to go to the countries that supported the resolution that caused this budget hole.”

As Canada blames other nations for daring to acknowledge that a Palestinian state has a right to exist—even symbolically—both Israeli and US officials said the move could harm renewed efforts for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But with Israel’s flouting of international laws through its expansion of settlements in the West Bank and its ongoing siege of Gaza, and considering the US and Canada’s unwavering allegiance to Israel’s Zionist project, the real obstacles to lasting peace in the Middle East continue to be Israel’s refusal to negotiate fairly with the Palestinians and the intervening Western nations who support this farce.

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