UNESCO’s Recognition of Palestine

November 3, 2011


As a hopeful Political Science major, I do my best to stay on top of the news.  Every now and then, however, I need a little nudge from a friend to keep up.  I knew yesterday, when I received a flurry of texts in the middle of class, that I’d missed something big.

Logo for UNESCO

October 31st marked the recognition of Palestine by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.  Over sixty percent of members voted in favor, many cheering upon the revelation of Palestine’s acceptance.  According to their homepage, UNESCO “contributes to the building of peace, the alleviation of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information.”

Given this description, it seemed to me to be a pretty basic, positive newsflash.  Unfortunately, there was a snag.  The United States, which contributes over twenty percent of UNESCO’s funding, has stopped funding in retaliation to Palestine’s acceptance into the organization.  A 1990 rider, passed under President George H. W. Bush, in the Foreign Relations Authorization Act requires the United States to halt funding to any United Nations group that gives Palestine the recognition that it would any other nation.

Nor is the United States the only nation infuriated by this vote.  Israel, too, has voiced displeasure regarding Palestine’s acceptance.  In the wake of the vote, the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his senior ministers have planned more settlement construction in the highly controversial West Bank.  UNESCO missions, additionally, are no longer to be allowed into Israel.

Thinking way back to Appiah’s discussion of cosmopolitanism, is it justifiable for the United States to cut off these funds to a globally beneficial organization?  Appiah believes “we now have to be responsible for fellow citizens both in our country and fellow citizens of the world.”  Does withdrawing funds from UNESCO aid or harm more individuals?

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki and historian and Ambassador for Palestine at UNESCO Elias Sanbar at UNESCO's General Conference

I know I still have reading to do on the matter, and I am by no means an authority on Palestinian/Israeli/American relations or even UNESCO.  However, I fail to see how the acceptance of Palestine into an organization championing education, diversity and sustainable development could be a negative thing.  Should this policy, older than some of the people taking this class, still be in use?  Forgive my quick overview and please help me out with nuance in comments.  I don’t mean to favor or disparage any group or nation with this post; this is only a view, constructed with the limited information that I’ve found on the matter.  As to a closing thought, some of the allies of the US voted for Palestine’s acceptance or abstained, like Britain; what does this signify regarding the strength of the US, if anything?









Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

4 Comments on “UNESCO’s Recognition of Palestine”

  1. ianbaker2041 Says:

    Some else wrote a post about Israel and Palestine yesterday (to which I replied in great length), so I think given that comment, it only makes sense that I of course am overjoyed about this. As I discuss in the comment on the other Israel vs Palestine post, the need for a two state solution is strong as ever, and this is a huge step towards that. It demonstrates that the world will no longer accept American intolerance of the Palestinian cause, and that is something that has been long overdue since 1948. This decision by the UNESCO opens up far more opportunities for Palestine to participate in world politics and get its fair share of the argument. When Palestine ultimately begins work in earnest at the United Nations, it will finally have a legitimate way to defend itself against Israel. I know that this sounds a bit draconian on the part of Israel; that’s not the intention. I’m not spewing anti-Israel rhetoric or saying that Israel has any less of a right to exist than Palestine. I’m just saying that the current division is grossly unequal and needs to be changed; this is a positive step to that end and shows that most of the world is on board with a two-state solution. While the battle is certainly nowhere close to over (as Palestine is not a full voting member of the UN), this is a positive step; I was overjoyed when I read the news.

    This decision also brings another disturbing realization to my mind: China. Palestine’s successful bid here paves the way for them to renew the pressure on the General Assembly for membership in the United Nations proper. Taiwan, too, has been trying to get into the UN for years, and it’s been stifled every time because mainland China (the Peoples Republic of China, or PRC) threatens to cut off trade with any nation that votes in favor of Taiwan. If China can exert this kind of sway to keep Taiwan out of the UN, can the US exert similar pressure to keep Palestine out, too? We will have to wait and see, but if the US fails in this effort, it may be a sign that China’s waxing economic power outweighs America’s military influence. For a nation that has built itself on a stable economy and a powerful, mighty military, I wonder if this wouldn’t make the US look weak.

  2. benjadler Says:

    I would like to add on to the discussion by saying first of all that the American-Israeli alliance generally leads them to oppose any forward movement by the Palestinians in the UN. More importantly, the vote to allow Palestine into the UN as a full state (not just an observer state) is rapidly approaching. Israel has felt threatened by the Palestinians since well, before the state of Israel even existed. Ever since Zionists first entered Palestine in the late 1800’s, the Palestinians have tried to expel them. While some of their reasons, such as the fear of losing their land to a foreign, European invader, are logical, as times progressed, many Palestinian and Arab groups have spewed anti-Semitic/anti-Israel speech discussing driving the Jews out of Palestine and into the sea to their deaths.

    This fear by Israelis about the Palestinian threat of terrorism has led them to ask their chief ally and patron, America, to support them in any diplomatic situation. Why doesn’t America simply refuse to support Israel? Simple, it is our biggest ally; and with their medical, technological, military/defense/desert warfare/counter-terrrorism advancements we need them as an ally if we want to win our conflict in the Middle East. With the Arab Spring and revolts against oppressive regimes across the Arab world, we do not know what the coming months and years will bring. The only consistent factor is that Israel, the only true, modern, and western democracy in the Middle East. We need the most powerful nation in the region we are neck deep in as an ally … or worse, an ally of China…. supplying them with weapons and technology. (this would signify our dependence on Israel and need to keep them from China)

    So this issue, as far as I am concerned, does not apply to Appiah in terms of the views of our politicians. As private citizens following the code of the citizen-squared, then yes, politicians acting as good Christians would take the best path and aid those in need because that is what they (hopefully) believe as people. However, since our politicians were elected to serve our best interests as a nation, and there will always be other nations or governments (Britain and the UN, in this case) to support those groups. Our politicians know that it is in the best interests of our nation to be allied with Israel for the reasons mentioned above. If they have to dirty their hands by not supporting the Palestinians on this issue, then so be it. They encounter the dirty hands problem and act accordingly in the best interests of their people. So as I see it, this is not a question of cosmopolitanism and supporting our fellow man half-way across the planet, but rather, making sure the interests of our own people are served first and foremost.

  3. ldahbour Says:

    “Thinking way back to Appiah’s discussion of cosmopolitanism, is it justifiable for the United States to cut off these funds to a globally beneficial organization? Appiah believes “we now have to be responsible for fellow citizens both in our country and fellow citizens of the world.” Does withdrawing funds from UNESCO aid or harm more individuals?”

    I don’t know if America’s suspension of UNESCO funding questions our alliance with Appiah’s cosmopolitanism, as we help the world in many ways, but I do see your concern on such a vocal opposition to an organization and an action that Appiah would support.

    The reaction of the United State to the UNESCO vote was an interesting one to the say the least. Even though it is normal for the United States to neglect Palestinian rights when it comes to matters of the UN their clear opposition to the matter obviously shows the strong alliance the US holds with Israel. As you said, there was an overwhelming majority in the UNESCO chamber that favored Palestine’s membership and for a good reason. The UNESCO acceptance of Palestine definitely caught the US by surprise, since it thought that it would not compromise such a generous fund for the admittance of one small nation. It is because of this that we have heard Obama talk about ‘helping UNESCO in other ways’ and ‘always supporting the mission of UNESCO’. So, although we might be giving UNESCO the money we did, I am sure the US will not nor will it ever publicly oppose UNESCO, as an organization, because of this act. The law was made in the 1990s, which shows the strong influence of Israeli lobbyists in American foreign policy. So, clearly no one really saw this coming, but since it is a law, it deserves compliance.

    Israel and the US need to realize that the system that THEY have mediated for the past centuries have not resulted in any progress. Direct negotiations are the only way to have a PEACEFUL two-state solution but they should be done will both parties are on an equal playing field. Israel now has more international recognition, officially, than Palestine, and that is why the Palestinians feel that they are continually robbed of their right to exist as a state. The majority of nations in the UN as a whole believe in the validity of Palestine’s membership and it is SOLELY the interest of ISRAEL that is preventing that membership from becoming a REALITY.

  4. rmwells3 Says:

    Without going into great detail as the prior posts have, I would simply attribute the importance of this recognition to the affect it will have on the balance of power during negotiations between the groups. Essentially, the 1990s peace period was one of the best eras in the conflict as it was the closest they’ve ever come to peace. However, the balance of power favored Israel hence why Israel pressed for peace during this time. Israel knew they could obtain so much more from the negotiation because they had United States and world sympathy backing them, peace treaties with other Arab nations in the region and a stronger economic situation than Arafat and his Arab supporters. The recognition of Palestine shows a transition in world support and potentially more power in negotiations for Palestinians and Arabs. I personally believe that the closer we come to an equal balance of power between all parties the more likely peace terms will finally be made.

%d bloggers like this: