The US plans to rejoin UNESCO in July, close to five years after its withdrawal to protest the organization’s 2011 decision to recognize Palestine as a member state, as well as its adoption of resolutions viewed as biased against Israel.
“This is a strong act of confidence, in UNESCO and in multilateralism,” UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said.
“This is a strong act of confidence, in UNESCO and in multilateralism.”UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay
“Not only in the centrality of the organization’s mandate – culture, education, science, information – but also in the way this mandate is being implemented today,” Azoulay added.
She informed delegates of UNESCO’s 193 member states of the Biden administration’s decision on Monday.The move had largely been anticipated since the US congressional omnibus bill approved in December 2022 included funding for UNESCO and language that would make it possible for the US to resume its membership in the organization.
The Obama administration stopped funding UNESCO in 2011
A previous congressional bill had barred the US from funding organizations that recognized Palestine as a member state. The Obama administration, as a result, immediately stopped funding UNESCO after it recognized Palestine as a member state in 2011, but never formally withdrew from the organization.
The Trump administration, however, severed the relationship on January 1, 2019, after UNESCO’s Executive Board passed controversial resolutions recognizing Jerusalem’s Temple Mount solely as a Muslim holy site and after its World Heritage Committee had registered the Tomb of the Patriarchs to the State of Palestine.
At the time of its withdrawal, the US had accrued a $615 million debt in unpaid dues.
According to UNESCO, an agreement was reached for a repayment plan of $150m. a year on top of the regular annual dues of $75mn.
Israel, which also quit UNESCO on January 1, 2019, did not respond to news of the US plans to rejoin the organization. The US also refrained from commenting.
Critics have argued that the US presence in UNESCO sanctions an organization with a politicized history that has made it unable to fulfill its mandate as a global cultural body.
Supporters of the Biden administration’s move have explained that Azoulay has worked to depoliticize UNESCO, and the US absence has robbed the organization of an effective voice, particularly at a time when China has been institutionally active there.
The Norwegian Foreign Ministry said the US return will “strengthen the political and financial impact of the organization’s work in education, science, culture, media, ocean and human rights.”
The American Jewish Committee said that “continued US absence from UNESCO – an agency that supports educational efforts to fight antisemitism and preserve Holocaust memory, and which under current leadership has halted the adoption of one-sided resolutions prejudicial to Israel – did not serve American national interests and values, or those of our allies.
“AJC has favored a US return under carefully negotiated conditions, worked with members of Congress to satisfy longstanding concerns, and welcomes the Biden administration’s move to rejoin this important multilateral institution.”
The World Jewish Congress said that under Azoulay, “UNESCO has made an immeasurable impact on the world stage by safeguarding history amid tumultuous and complex global events, so that current and future generations can be exposed to and better understand the lessons of the past.”