/ 31 October 2011

US cuts off Unesco funding after Palestinian vote

The US announced it has stopped funding Unesco, following its vote to grant the Palestinians full membership on Monday.

The United States said on Monday it had stopped funding Unesco, the United Nations’ cultural agency, following its vote to grant the Palestinians full membership.

US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters the US had no choice but to halt funding because of longstanding US law, saying Washington would not make a planned $60-million transfer that was due in November.

The United States provides about 22% of Unesco’s funding.

Palestine became a full member of Unesco on Monday, in a highly divisive move that the US and other opponents say could harm renewed Midddle East peace efforts.

Huge cheers went up in the organisation after delegates approved the membership in a vote of 107-14 with 52 abstentions. Eighty-one votes were needed for approval in a hall with 173 Unesco member delegations present.

“Long Live Palestine!” shouted one delegate, in French, at the unusually tense and dramatic meeting of Unesco’s general conference.

While the vote has large symbolic meaning, the issue of borders of an eventual Palestinian state, security troubles and other disputes that have thwarted Middle East peace for decades remain unresolved.

Palestinian officials are seeking full membership in the United Nations, but that effort is still under examination and the US has said it will veto it unless there is a peace deal with Israel. Given that, the Palestinians separately sought membership at Paris-based Unesco and other UN bodies.

Monday’s vote is definitive. The membership formally takes effect when Palestine signs Unesco’s founding charter.

The US ambassador to Unesco David Killion said Monday’s vote will “complicate” US efforts to support the agency. The United States voted against the measure.

Israel’s ambassador to Unesco Nimrod Barkan called the vote a tragedy.

“Unesco deals in science, not science fiction,” he said. “They forced on Unesco a political subject out of its competence … They’ve forced a drastic cut in contributions to the organisation,” he said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last week called Unesco’s deliberation “inexplicable”, saying discussion of Palestinian membership in international organisations couldn’t replace negotiations with Israel as a fast-track toward Palestinian independence. — Sapa-AP, Reuters