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Update: Palestinian UNESCO Membership

Action Alerts

Next Monday, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is expected to approve the Palestinian’s application for membership. State Department lawyers have reviewed existing American legislation and see no way around the laws, which would necessitate an automatic cutoff of U.S. funding to UNESCO should the Palestinians gain membership. U.S. dues and contributions to UNESCO make up 22 percent of the organization's budget.

UNESCO, which is involved in the protection of historical and cultural landmarks, has released decisions in the past that denied Israeli and Jewish connections to holy sites. Palestinian membership would further promote this agenda and would lead to additional conflict over religious sites throughout Jerusalem.

On October 5, the Palestinian’s won a preliminary vote for UNESCO membership. The UNESCO Executive Board voted 40-4 (with 14 countries abstaining). The United States, Germany, Latvia and Romania opposed the resolution, while many of the countries voting in favor—including 12 of the 13 African nations on the committee—receive sizable foreign aid from the United States.

U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO David Killion stated, "Granting the Palestinians full membership now in a specialized agency such as UNESCO is premature. Given that the UN Security Council is reviewing the Palestinian application, we believe it is inappropriate for a UN specialized agency to also take up the same matter."

Palestinian’s bid for UNESCO membership—a continuation of their Unilateral Declaration of Independence—may only be the first in a series of membership applications to UN agencies, such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the International Criminal Court and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The existing U.S. legislation which would affect UNESCO funding would require the U.S. stop payments to—and possibly participation in—these other UN agencies as well.

The United States, Israel and other Quartet members continue to pressure the Palestinians to return to direct, bilateral negotiations without delay or preconditions, in place of recognition by the United Nations and its agencies.

Americans need to understand the full ramification of Palestinian membership to UNESCO. A list of suggested talking points from The Israel Project can be found below. These points can be used to contact elected officials, local media, or for bulletins and social media posts.

  • Palestinians will use UNESCO membership to deny Israeli and Jewish connections to holy sites.
  • U.S. withdrawal from UN agencies will hurt U.S. influence throughout the world.
  • This bid at UNESCO is just another attempt by the Palestinians to bypass peace negotiations with Israel, to orchestrate international pressure against Israel and to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state.
  • Many nations are urging the Palestinians to pull back but President Mahmoud Abbas has so far refused.
  • Foreign aid from America should be linked to our national interests. Ongoing blank checks to countries and entities that continue to defy American security and other concerns cannot continue.
Date: 10/25/2011
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