On Monday, unless the Palestinians can be persuaded to back down, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will vote to accept Palestine as a full member state, triggering an automatic cutoff of U.S. funding and wreaking havoc with many of the agency’s programs.
Under legislation adopted by Congress over 15 years ago, the United States is mandated to withdraw from any U.N. agency that accepts Palestine as a full member state in the absence of a peace treaty with Israel.
The U.S.’s withdrawal means that it would no longer fund about 22 percent of the UNESCO budget – around $70 million a year. According to the website of the U.S. mission to UNESCO, some of the programs it funds that presumably will be affected include:
Systems to provide early warning on tsunamis including special coastal hazards affecting Haiti.
The study of earthquake threats in the Eastern Mediterranean, including Turkey, which was hit by a major deadly quake last weekend.
Literacy training throughout the world.
Vocational schools in Afghanistan.
General support for World Heritage sites, including the Borobudur Buddhist Temple in Indonesia.
Programs to study and preserve the health of the world’s oceans … And the list goes on.
A senior U.S. official says Washington has mounted a massive diplomatic effort to try to get friendly countries to put pressure on the Palestinians not to move forward with a vote. This official says there is widespread international dismay at the prospect of the United States being forced to pull out of an agency that does so much valuable work around the world.
“Within a few short months, without discussion at the White House or debate in Congress, the U.S. could find itself shut out of a great many international decisions that have a direct impact on American jobs, lives, safety and security,” former U.S. Senator Timothy Wirth, now President of the United Nations Foundation, wrote in the Los Angeles Times this week.