Officials from the United States government announced that they will cease funding to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) after UNESCO’s General Assembly accepted Palestine as the 195th member state of the organization amid the loud and huge cheers that erupted among the General Assembly once the decision was announced. 107 countries voted in favor of accepting Palestine, 14 countries against it while 52 countries abstained from voting. This gives a victory to the Palestinians in their fight for statehood.
Notable countries that abstained from voting included Britain and Italy while countries such as Brazil, India, South Africa, France, Austria, Russia and others voted in favor despite the against votes put up by the United States, Germany, obviously Israel and Canada.
As a result of accepting Palestine as a member state, UNESCO faces the U.S. withdrawal of $60 million due in November. Despite withdrawing funding and membership fees from UNESCO, U.S. officials stated that they will continue to somehow participate in the organization.
Canadian government officials sided with the U.S. saying that it was a “poor and premature decision”. Canada may also consider freezing the transfer of funds to UNESCO which could amount to $10 million.
This will be the second time in history when the U.S. withdrew monetary support from UNESCO since the days of U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
Palestinian authorities have cited reasons such as the continuing construction of Israeli settlements in lands that are supposed to be the properties of Palestinians, the stalling in peace talks with Israel and simply the feel to longer wait for state independence through unsuccessful talks regarding the two-state solution.
The Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas fulfilled his promise of personally going to the 66th General Assembly and presenting the application for statehood to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
The timing of this statehood bid is somewhat favorable for Palestinians as the General Assembly’s presidency has come to Lebanon giving the Palestinian authorities a political leverage.
The Palestinian Authority successfully changed their status of “observer” in the General Assembly to “non-member state” which has given them eligibility to enroll in programs hosted by the United Nations agencies such as UNESCO, the World Health Organization and UNICEF without the need for approval from the United Nations Security Council.
Palestinian officials are hoping that their move will pressure Israel into continuing the talks and giving productive output. However the reactions from Israel and its supporter, the United States, were mostly critiques of the Palestinians for their “hasty, unilateral decision”.
The Palestinians claim that they are not making a unilateral decision but merely going to the United Nations to uphold the “two state principle” agreed upon by both Israeli and Palestinian governments.
A vote in the United Nations Security Council will be held later this month on Palestine’s UN membership. The United States has repeatedly confirmed that it will veto all related resolutions in the Security Council.
(Cover Photo: AP/Thibault Camus)