The Cable reports: Following the State Department’s announcement that it had cut off U.S. funding from UNESCO in response to its overwhelming vote in favor of accepting the Palestinian bid for full membership, senators from both parties predicted the United States would cut funding or even withdraw from several other international organizations the Palestinians seek to join.
As The Cable reported last month, the Obama administration is required by existing U.S. law to cut off funding for any international organization that grants the Palestinians full membership. . Membership in UNESCO also grants the Palestinians membership in the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). The United States is not a member of UNIDO, but will be forced to stop contributing to WIPO.
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The Palestinians could seek membership in more prominent international organizations, which could result in the United States defunding or even withdrawing from institutions such as the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The AP reported today that the Palestinian Authority was examining seeking membership in 16 more U.N. organizations.
While leading senators in both parties acknowledge that such an outcome would be negative for U.S. interests and influence, they have no intention of intervening to change the law. To the contrary, several top senators in both parties told The Cable they support the policy and will work to enforce it, despite the consequences.
Ian Williams writes: By reflexively withdrawing from Unesco in response to Palestine’s admission, the Obama-Clinton state department has taken the lunatic fringe and put them centre stage. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who chairs the House foreign affairs committee, combines a Likudnik support of Israel with a recidivist hatred of the UN and has been trying to de-fund the UN and its agencies.
In contrast, Hillary Clinton, who visited Unesco’s Paris HQ earlier this year, had announced: “I am proud to be the first secretary of state from the United States ever to come to Unesco, and I come because I believe strongly in your mission.” Indeed. So strongly does she believe in it that she is prepared to pull out of the organisation for recognising the Palestinian statehood that Obama had himself called for at the UN general assembly in September 2010.
The voting lineup on Monday was indicative. France, much more diplomatically adroit than the US, and mindful of its global standing, supported Palestinian membership. Even subservient Britain could not bring itself to vote with the US and pusillanimously abstained. The voting suggests that when the security council resolution on Palestinian UN membership comes up next week, it will get the nine affirmative votes needed – which means the US will have to use its veto and risk consequences, such as those threatened by the Saudis.
If the US had put nearly as much pressure on Israel as it had on others to avoid using its threatened veto, it would be a much more credible and creditable world power. As it is, its desperate attempts to avoid a veto by getting others to do its dirty work for it have made the Obama administration look like a toddler who hides his head behind the curtains and cannot understand why everyone can still see him.
The security council vote apart, the Unesco vote presages Palestinian admission to other agencies. One looks forward to US withdrawal from the International Atomic Energy Agency, relieving the pressure in Iran, or from the World Health Organisation, as soon as Palestine is allowed to join.
Compounding the irony, Israel itself has so far not indicated it is pulling out of Unesco, nor indeed any other UN agency. On the contrary, WikiLeaks recently revealed that Israel was angling for a major position in Unesco.
The nature of the US approach is clear. There is a general lack of principle. For example, the route being followed by Palestine in its effort to join multilateral institutions replicates that of the Vatican, whose far more dubious claim to statehood derives from its original membership of the Universal Postal Union, since the postage stamp-sized enclave did indeed issue its own stamps.
The actual legislation the state department invokes is a 1990 prohibition on funding “the United Nations or any specialised agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organisation the same standing as a member state”, and another in 1994 banning payments to “any affiliated organisation of the United Nations which grants full membership as a state to any organisation or group that does not have the internationally recognised attributes of statehood”.
Any president, as we have seen, has ways to get around congressional mandates like this. For example, there are questions about which manifestation of Palestine is applying: the PLO or the Palestinian Authority. The congressional legislation was passed before the Oslo accords – and before the US began funding the Palestinians directly, so an executive decision could have declared that events had overtaken the intent of the law, and, what is more, that it was not the PLO but the Palestinian state that had been admitted.