Clinton: UNESCO should 'think again' on Palestinians

Washington may cut funding to UN cultural agency if vote on Palestinian membership proceeds; ADL calls vote "dangerously inappropriate."

October 6, 2011 01:00
2 minute read.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

hillary clinton_311 reuters. (photo credit: REUTERS/Tony Gentile)


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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hinted Wednesday the US may withhold funds to UNESCO if it votes to accept the Palestinians as a member state, a tactic that worked to keep the PLO from gaining entry into UN-affiliated bodies in 1989.

UNESCO, the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization based in Paris, is expected to vote in its 193- member General Conference later this month whether to grant the Palestinians a state.

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UNESCO director-general hails joint work with Israel

The Palestinian bid to join this UN agency, and others, is part of its overall move toward gaining UN statehood recognition.

On Wednesday, 40 members of the 58-member UNESCO executive board voted in favor of bringing to a vote the question of admitting Palestinians as a member later this month.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – who asked during a press conference Wednesday in the Dominican Republic whether the US should stop funding or drop out of the organization if the move was adopted – said she found it “quite confusing and somewhat inexplicable that you would have organs of the UN making decisions about statehood, or quasistatehood status, while the issue has been presented to the United Nations.”

Then-president, Ronald Reagan, pulled the US out of UNESCO in 1984 because of its anti-American agenda and budgetary mismanagement, and Washington did not rejoin until 2003. Presently it contributes some 22 percent of the organization’s yearly budget.


Clinton urged UNESCO’s governing body to “think again before proceeding with that vote, because the decision about status must be made in the United Nations and not in auxiliary groups that are subsidiary to the United Nations.”

“What is the boundary of this state that is being considered by UNESCO?” she asked.

“What authorities does it have? What jurisdiction will it be endowed with? Who knows? Nobody knows because those are the hard issues that can only be resolved by negotiation.”

Regarding how the US will respond to the UNESCO move, Clinton said “we are certainly aware of strong legislative prohibition that prevents the United States from funding organizations that jump the gun, so to speak, in recognizing entities before they are fully ready for such recognition. So it is still our hope – and our strong recommendation – that we take this to the appropriate forum, which is the negotiating table, and take it out of international organizations that are basically engaged in actions that are not going to change the lives of the people that deserve a state of their own.

Namely the Palestinians.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) has already called for a cut-off of US funding to UNESCO if the Palestinian request is approved.

Israeli diplomatic officials, meanwhile, said Thursday that Jerusalem was lobbying the UNESCO countries against accepting the PLO bid. Two-thirds of the UNESCO states need to vote for the bid for it to be accepted.

At Wednesday’s executive board meeting, only the US, Germany, Latvia and Romania – of the 58 states on the governing board – voted against, while another 14 countries abstained.

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