The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted yesterday to admit Palestine as its newest member – and the United States promptly responded by cutting off $60 million of funding for the agency.
Apparently our administration feels that Palestine’s membership in an organization committed to “the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue” is “reckless,” “anti-Israel and anti-peace.”
Is there anything at all the US will not do for Israel?
From a smart CNN editorial yesterday:
The irony of the decision to cut funding is that UNESCO is one of the few United Nations groups where the U.S. finds a sympathetic ear on issues related to Israel. UNESCO is actively working with America to promote tolerance and is working to deepen understanding of the Holocaust in countries where people don’t even believe it existed.
Even more important U.S. interests will be at stake if the World Intellectual Property Organization grants Palestinians membership, which as an affiliate of UNESCO they are almost certain to do. That is where you start directly encountering obvious and significant interests to American business.
To my mind, the best commentary on the absurdity of all this came when AP reporter Matthew Lee questioned State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland during a press conference yesterday. You can watch the whole thing above or read a full transcript on Sami Kishawi’s blog.
Here’s my favorite part – Kafka couldn’t have written it better:
Reporter: Okay, and how does it undermine exactly the prospect of where you want to go?
Victoria Nuland: The concern is that it creates tensions when all of us should be concerting our efforts to get the parties back to the table.
Reporter: The only thing it does is it upsets Israel and it triggers this law that you said will require you to stop funding UNESCO. Is there anything else? There’s nothing that changes on the ground, is there?
Victoria Nuland: Our concern is that this could exacerbate the environment which we are trying to work through so that the parties will get back to the table.
Reporter: How exactly does it exacerbate the environment if it changes nothing on the ground unlike, say, construction of settlements? It changes nothing on the ground. It gives Palestine membership in UNESCO, which was a body the US was so unconcerned about for many years that it wasn’t even a member.
Victoria Nuland: Well, I think you know that this administration is committed to UNESCO, rejoined UNESCO, wants to see UNESCO’s work go forward.
Reporter: Actually, it was the last administration that rejoined UNESCO, not this one. But I need to have some kind of clarity on how this undermines the peace process — other than the fact that it upsets Israel.
Victoria Nuland: Again, we are trying to get both of these parties back to the table. That’s what we’ve been doing all along. That was the basis for the President’s speech in May, basis of the diplomacy that the Quartet did through the summer, the basis of the statement that the Quartet came out with in September. So in that context, we have been trying to improve the relationship between these parties, improve the environment between them, and we are concerned that we exacerbate tensions with this, and it makes it harder to get the parties back to the table.
Reporter: Since the talks broke off last September until today, how many times have they met together, with all your effort?
Victoria Nuland: How many times have the parties met?
Victoria Nuland: I think you know the answer to that question.