I was thrilled for Palestine when it was admitted in UNESCO on the 31st of October, as it was an indication of support for Palestine from the international community and added greater strength to its ongoing bid for UN membership status, with 107 votes yes, 14 no and 52 abstentions it was a good show of support for Palestine. However, the US has withheld its $65 million dollar contribution (22% of UNESCO budget) in accordance with a 1990 and 1994 US law created by Senate Foreign Relations Chair Claiborne Pell and then Chairman Dante Fascell. US payments to any UN affiliated organisation that admits Palestine as a member will be withheld, those funds are needed for educational, cultural and scientific programs and grassroots projects across the world including tsunami warning systems in the Caribbean, preserving historical and cultural sites, literacy programs in Afghanistan and media training in Tunisia & Egypt. Already UNESCO has halted and is reviewing its projects and will have a budget deficit. According to Brett Schaefer, a specialist on UN affairs ‘Everybody was somewhat shocked and surprised by the fact that this legislation existed’, states were not aware of the ramifications of accepting Palestine in UNESCO.
Ibrahim Khraishi, head of the Palestine UN envoy in Geneva, announced they would seek membership in 16 other UN organisations. If one can imagine this impact on one UN agency can one imagine it to 16 others? As someone who has great faith in the aims of the UN, and who is president of my university’s (SOAS) Model UN society, I can’t describe the negative impact this would have on humanitarian works, economic assistance, diplomatic bridges, educational and grassroots programmes across the globe, including America’s own foreign policy. The US is a keystone in the foundation of the UN, being one its founding architects, and whether you like it or not its a key player in the UN. According to the White House Office of Management and Budget the US government contributes $7.691,822,000 billion in total to all UN organisations. These funds contribute to everything from protection of engendered species to creation of aviation rules & regulations to peacekeeping missions in Darfur, South Sudan and Lebanon. The US also played a major role in founding and funding war tribunals in Rwanda & Sierra Leone.
Therefore with this US legislation if Palestine were admitted into any of these agencies it would mean, for instance, that the World Food Programme (WFP) will lose 36.3% of its budget in turn affecting aid to Somalia, Haiti & North Korea; the Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) will lose 25.1% of its budget affecting its distribution of knowledge on food security, sustainable farming and protection of forests; the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would lose 25.38% of its budget affecting its mission to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and affect further surveillance of Iran & North Korea. The Palestinian Authority and its UN envoy must reconsider their action as it will have dire consequences not only for the aid and educational support for developing nations, but also for regional security.
This is a an issue that the United Nations cannot be dealing with now taking into account the global economic recession which has affected food & aid supplies to Somalia and when US House Republicans, headed by Congressman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, have proposed an anti-UN bill that could make the US government withdraw 50% of its funding to the UN if the UN doesn’t enforce what the bill calls for more ‘accountable, transparent reforms’. We must be realistic; Palestine is not yet a state and hence should not be entered into a UN agency given the same rights as member states, also its UN membership bid will never pass though the Security Council where it’s expected to be rejected. The right and orthodox thing for Palestine to do is become a recognised state through the peace process, and yes the Likud government of Benjamin Netanyahu has been the main obstacle of peace with its failure to engage with Mahmoud Abbas and its continuous construction of settlements in occupied West Bank, but the fate and livelihoods of millions cannot be put at risk because of this brave yet in vain political message.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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