Dear Ministers and Ambassadors,
The UNESCO vote to accept Palestine as their 195th member – a recognition that does not entail any formal diplomatic standing at the UN – may mark a milestone in the “peace process,” or turn into a debacle of the first order for the Palestinian people as the US Congress and Prime Minister Netanyahu scramble to outdo each other in responding to this "unilateral" and "anti-peace" action.
In any event, for those advocating a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, such as your own governments, this should be counted as a victory for diplomacy, for it affirms the existence of the Palestinian people (they are not a “science fiction” product, as the Israeli ambassador to the UN snidely remarked yesterday).
The United States, however, has now decided to suspend all funding to UNESCO in response.
The question is: what will you Gulf Cooperation Council champions of the Palestinian cause do in response?
The US, acting on reflexive legislation passed in the 1990s has frozen payment of US$60 million to UNESCO for the month of November. Close to US$70 million, or 22% of UNESCO’s annual budget comes from the US. The US will remain in UNESCO, but without paying its dues – a stance it can only maintain for two years before it must resume payments or leave UNESCO entirely.
If Congressional Republicans have their way, when that two-year deadline comes, the US will be out of UNESCO. Few in Congress today would shed any tears over that.
They would also shed few tears over the withdrawal of the US from other UN organizations such as UNICEF or the World Health Organization. Foreign aid – excluding defense spending – is on the Beltway chopping block for the foreseeable future. The US might stick it out with commercially-oriented bodies in the UN such as the World Intellectual Property Organization, or security-related ones like the IAEA (though there are many in the US who wish to wipe their hands of the latter).
UNESCO survived without US funding for years – Ronald Reagan took the US out of the organization in 1984 (George W. Bush only brought the US back into it in 2003). But these immediate shortfalls will certainly harm UNESCO. And who knows what UN agency will be defunded next?
So, will you committed humanitarians in Doha, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Manama step up to fund UNESCO projects so that UNESCO as a whole is not punished for the way its members voted on Palestine, and so that perhaps Palestinians can now benefit from UNESCO projects?
And will you pledge your petrodollars to making up for potential shortfalls in aid payments to the Palestinian Authority and other UN agencies?
Or will you once again demonstrate your willingness to “fight to the last Palestinian” rather than upset the State Department and risk your pretty planes?