UNESCO Loses 1/4 of its Funding After Palestine Admission

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon greets the crowd at a meeting at the headquarters of the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization. UNESCO's General Conference admitted Palestine as a full member on Oct. 31. Photo by: Evan Schneider / UN

With 107 member states voting in favor of admission, the UNESCO’s General Conference admitted Palestine as a full member Monday (Oct. 31), raising its total number of member states to 195.

The move also means the U.N. specialized agency will lose a quarter of its funding: 22 percent from the United States and 3 percent from Israel. At a same-day press briefing, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed the United States will no longer contribute the $60 million it had planned to give in November.

Legislation dating from the early 1990s requires the United States to cut off funding to any U.N. agency that accepts Palestine as a full member. In the days leading to the vote, both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova spoke to members of the Congress to see if there could be any flexibility in terms of U.S. funding and participation. But State department lawyers said they did not see any way to circumvent the law.

Bokova acknowledged the vote presented “potential challenges” to the agency’s universality and financial stability. But she stressed, “UNESCO’s work is too important to be jeopardized.”

Being accepted as a full UNESCO member, however, does not create a Palestinian state; it is largely a symbolic breakthrough, a BBC report notes. But it does pave the way for wider international recognition from other U.N. agencies and bodies.

Palestine presented its bid for U.N. statehood and full membership at the global body during the U.N. General Assembly in September. The U.N. Security Council is set to take a vote in November.

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About the author

  • Aimee Rae Ocampo

    As former Devex editor for business insight, Aimee created and managed multimedia content and cutting-edge analysis for executives in international development.