U.S. law prohibits funding any UN body that accords statehood status to a non-state. Enacted in the 1990s, the law was designed to discourage precisely today’s scenario—premature UN membership for Palestine.
Many members of Congress from both parties express resolute support for the UNESCO funding cut-off. Their colleagues—and the Administration—should follow their lead, for several powerful reasons.
The UN ploy directly undermines U.S. peace efforts and delays the resumption of negotiations. It shows a Palestinian leadership uninterested in negotiating peace, and instead manipulating the UN system to wage diplomatic warfare against Israel.
In a New York Times Op-ed last May, Chairman Mahmoud Abbas wrote that he hoped UN membership would “pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies, and the International Court of Justice.”
The United States must discourage UN agencies from collaborating in such shenanigans.
UNESCO’s decision also challenges American global leadership, and directly affronts the Obama Administration, which rightly maintains that the Palestinians can achieve statehood only by negotiating with Israel and making the difficult concessions necessary for a peaceful two-state future.
Considering the PLO’s plan to use the UN system to attack Israel, freezing funding reinforces the message that the United States sticks with its friends. Showing loyalty to allies is always important, but never more so than in today’s rapidly changing Middle East, where new governments and old are assessing our resolve.
Last, but not least, even in the endemically anti-Israel UN system—where the Arab and Nonaligned States provide an automatic anti-Israel majority against Israel—UNESCO stands out for its decades-long malicious campaign.
UNESCO collaborates in the Orwellian effort of the Palestinians, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, to sever Jewish history from its roots in the land of Israel—while creating a fictitious new history tying Palestinian Muslims to ancient Jewish landmarks.
As recently as October 2010, UNESCO declared two historic Jewish sites, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb, to be Palestinian. It even described Rachel’s Tomb as an old mosque, latching on to a fiction fabricated only a few years ago.
Ironically, protecting the world’s heritage sites is a fundamental UNESCO function. Yet the agency seeks to eradicate Jewish ties to their ancestral homeland—epitomizing how UNESCO’s politicization distorts its work and prevents it from achieving its mission. U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO David T. Killion declared: "More and more, UNESCO is exploited as a means to single out Israel. This undermines UNESCO's credibility.”
The PA assertion that UNESCO membership will enable it to protect Palestinian landmarks is disingenuous. No shred of evidence suggests that Israel endangers Arab landmarks. By contrast, when the West Bank was in Arab hands between Israel’s establishment in 1948 and 1967, Palestinians routinely desecrated Jewish holy and historic sites, including the large and much-revered cemetery on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives.
U.S. failure to enforce the legally mandated funding freeze would send UN agencies an unmistakable message that they can ignore vital U.S. interests—such as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process—without consequence.
Instead, the United States must show UN entities that U.S. funding will stop if they prematurely admit “Palestine.” A steadfast United States will be in the good company of Canada, which will entertain no further UNESCO funding requests.
UNESCO has some important functions. Its programs promote clean water, literacy, education, and equal treatment for girls and young women. The United States can and should promote these noble goals—as it already does, often in cooperation with international partners.
Indeed, our dollars may go further if they don’t support UNESCO’s politicized bureaucracy or its campaign to eradicate Israel’s heritage.
If UNESCO wants to be funded as an organization that promotes laudable goals, it should focus on those goals and resist politicized dabbling in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather than re-inventing Israel’s history, UNESCO should re-invent itself.
Debra Feuer is an attorney and foreign policy consultant in Washington, D.C.; she served as Counsel for Special Projects in the American Jewish Committee’s Office of Government and International Affairs, advocating on the Middle East, United Nations, and related issues.