US Cuts Off UNESCO Funding After Palestinian Vote

Posted October 31st, 2011 at 1:55 pm (UTC-5)
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The United States says it is cutting off financial contributions to the United Nations cultural agency following its vote Monday to grant Palestinians full membership.

The State Department said Washington will not make a $60-million November payment to UNESCO because of a longstanding U.S. law that prohibits American support for any U.N.-affiliated body that accepts Palestinian membership.

Washington currently is UNESCO's biggest funding source, supplying 22 percent of the agency's budget.

Earlier Monday, the Paris-based UNESCO voted to approve the Palestinian membership bid by a vote of 107 to 14, with 52 abstentions.

France voted for the motion, along with almost all Arab, African, Latin American and Asian nations, including China and India. Israel, the United States, Canada and Germany voted against it. Japan and Britain abstained. A two-thirds vote was required by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's 193 members.

The White House called UNESCO's decision “premature,” saying it undermines the international community's goal of a comprehensive Middle East peace plan. Spokesman Jay Carney said the move is a distraction from the task of restarting direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, called the vote “deeply damaging to UNESCO.”

Israel's Foreign Ministry described the move as a “unilateral Palestinian maneuver” that would further harm efforts to secure a peace agreement. The ministry thanked countries that opposed the measure and said it was “disappointing” that the European Union could not reach a unified position to prevent the decision.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki hailed the admission as a “historic moment,” saying it is “not an alternative, not a substitute for something else.”

UNESCO is the first U.N. agency the Palestinians have sought to join since President Mahmoud Abbas applied in September for full recognition of Palestinian statehood by the U.N. General Assembly.

Palestinian officials say they will call on UNESCO to recognize key monuments in the occupied Palestinian territories as world heritage sites. These include the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, built over the place where many Christians say Jesus is believed to have been born.

Also Monday, Bosnian officials said the country's tripartite presidency could not agree on whether to support the Palestinian bid for full U.N. membership, forcing its likely abstention from a key Security Council vote on Palestinian statehood.

Palestinian officials have said they already have eight of the required nine votes for a majority on the council and were counting heavily on Bosnia-Herzegovina to give them the ninth.

Meanwhile, Israel says it has carried out an overnight airstrike in the Gaza Strip against militants who fired rockets at Israel. The attacks came just hours after Islamic Jihad and other radical Palestinian groups in Gaza had announced they would accept an Egyptian-mediated truce to end days of deadly violence – as long as Israel reciprocated.

On Saturday, Israel's airstrikes killed nine Islamic Jihad members in Gaza. The militant group fired about 20 rockets into southern Israel Saturday, killing one Israeli civilian.