UNESCO Risks Losing US Support as Agency Moves Closer to Granting Palestinian Authority Full Membership

    Concerns over the future of UNESCO’s budget have risen ahead of the agency’s two-week general assembly in France, where its 193 member states are expected to consider and approve the Palestinian Authority’s application for full membership into the agency.

    The executive board of UNESCO, a U.N. specialized agency tasked to promote literacy, science, gender equality and education, among others, has earlier approved the Palestinian Authority’s application and the assembly, which convenes in France starting Tuesday (Oct. 24), is expected to follow suit, according to The New York Times.

    But by approving the Palestinian application, UNESCO member states are risking a complete cutoff of U.S. contributions to the agency’s budget, the newspaper says, explaining the United States is legally mandated to withdraw its financial support to any U.N. agency or program that accepts the Palestinian Authority as a full member.

    The New York Times adds UNESCO could be forced to reduce its staff and programs should the United States withdraw its contributions, which account for 22 percent of the agency’s budget.

    The United States, a member of UNESCO’s executive board, has opposed the Palestinian Authority’s bid for membership into the agency from the start — in line with the Obama administration’s opposition of the Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition as an independent state. But the application was still approved by the executive board, 40-4, with 14 others abstaining.

    Ahead of the general assembly vote and expected approval of the Palestinian application, UNESCO officials are urging the United States to re-evaluate the law banning funding for U.N. agencies that accept the Palestinian Authority as a member.

    “I think the United States should take a very careful look at this legislation, in their own interests. I don’t believe it’s in the U.S. interest to disengage from the U.N. system as a whole,” UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova told The New York Times.

    The newspaper says the Obama administration appears to agree with Bokova on the importance of UNESCO to U.S. national interests but the administration is hard-pressed to find a way around the law, which does not offer the option of a presidential waiver.

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    About the author

    • Ivy Mungcal

      As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.