United States Loses UNESCO Voting Rights Over Palestine Row

The United States and Israel lost their voting rights at UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) after the countries stopped paying dues to the UN’s cultural arm.

The two nations stopped payments two years ago in protest when UNESCO granted full membership to the Palestinians. The US pulled funding in October 2011, citing laws that prevent funding to any UN agency that recognizes the Palestinians’ demands for their own state.

Israel also pulled its funding, citing unilateral attempts by the Palestinians to gain recognition of statehood, reports Reuters. Both countries were expected to provide an official justification for non-payment by Friday and a plan to pay their missed dues.

However, that deadline passed with no justification, according to a UNESCO source. Because of this, their voting rights were automatically suspended for two years. When asked for his reaction on the suspension, the US Ambassador to UNESCO, David Killion, stated that the US considers UNESCO a “critical partner in creating a better future.”

The New York Times notes that, in an interview on Friday at the agency’s headquarters in Paris, UNESCO director general Irina Bokova commented that she “deeply regret[s]” suspending the United States’ and Israel’s voting rights. She explained, “This is not some kind of punishment on behalf of UNESCO for nonpayment. It’s just our rules.”

Bokova traveled to Washington, D.C., in 2011 to try and persuade American lawmakers to change the language after the initial funding cutoff. The Obama administration attempted to push through a similar change last year, but it failed. UNESCO was forced to lay off staff and delay projects and programs after the US cut off about $70 million in aid.

Friday marked the first time the United States voluntarily gave up its vote in an organization it is a member of. There will be several consequences in light of the suspension, including the loss of the US’ voice on issues like freedom and girls’ education. It is also less likely that two American sites on the list to become World Heritage monuments will win approval.

The United States’ UNESCO suspension also means the nation has less ability to exercise its soft power influence in the world. Bokova explained, “UNESCO is viewed as a neutral stakeholder.” The country’s reduced voice in the organization means it will have a more difficult time advancing interests in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Should the United States restore funding to UNESCO, or did it have valid reasons for withdrawing aid in the first place?

[Image by United Nations via Wikimedia Commons]

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