The decision of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization on Monday to grant Palestine full membership should not be used as an excuse for the United States to cut funding for the cultural arm of the U.N. Nor does it justify the Israeli response to expand its new Jewish settlement plans.
Both countries should recognize the trend of our times, which sees the Palestinian pursuit of rights and interests on the international stage as righteous.
Though regarded as a symbolic victory for the Palestinian authorities in their broader quest for international recognition, UNESCO’s move conforms to the will of the majority of the world’s countries. The resolution approving Palestinian membership was adopted with a landslide vote of 107 to 14, with 52 abstentions.
It underscores the legitimate rights of millions of Palestinians to participate in U.N. activities and programs that protect historic heritage sites, improve world literacy and promote education and culture.
As expected, the U.N. cultural body’s decision has infuriated Washington and its close allies. On Monday, the U.S. said it was withdrawing its share of UNESCO funding, which amounts to almost a quarter of the cultural agency’s overall budget. It also warned of a “cascade” effect should other U.N. bodies follow suit.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas applied for formal U.N. membership at the U.N. General Assembly on Sep. 23. The application will be discussed at the U.N. Security Council later this month.
Canada followed the U.S. steps on Tuesday, announcing it was freezing all future voluntary contributions to the agency. It contributes about $10 million a year to the U.N. cultural agency.
Such a threat to the U.N.’s cultural undertaking will not bend the will of the world body. It will not deter the international community either. But rather, the blatant move to take UNESCO a hostage will only make Washington lose the moral high ground.
UNESCO has survived without Washington’s funding in the past. It will survive this time as well. The U.S. under the Ronald Reagan administration pulled out of the U.N. cultural agency and rejoined it two decades later under the George W. Bush administration.
As for Israel, its anger also stems from the prospect that UNESCO membership will prompt Palestine to take bolder moves in listing significant religious sites now under Israeli occupation as world heritage. In what is widely perceived as retaliation to the UNESCO decision, Israel declared on Tuesday it would build 2,000 new apartments in the Jewish areas of east Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday defended the decision as Israel’s “right” and “duty”. But isn’t it the right of Palestinians to be accepted as participants to world’s cultural undertaking? It is also the duty of UNESCO to grant Palestine the equal status that is enjoyed by the majority of the world countries, Israel included.