President Obama called America “the greatest country in the world” on Friday, but the same day the US lost basic voting rights on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). The US stopped paying its dues in fall of 2011 because Unesco accepted Palestine (now a non-member observer state of the UN like the Vatican) as a member. Among Unesco’s recent activities has been helping with cultural recovery in earthquake-stricken Haiti.
Palestine Ambassador and Permanent Delegate at Unesco H.E. Elias Sanbar
Although the US says it favors a state of Palestine, in fact it has been rather gleefully helping screw over the Palestinians since 1948 and has de facto gone along with virtually any new outrage the Israelis could think up to inflict on them, from putting the children of Gaza ‘on a diet’ to gradually usurping the best land and water resources on the West Bank. Whenever the international community tried to pressure Israel to stop, and to allow stateless Palestinians to have the basic rights of citizenship and property, the US used its veto at the UNSC to ensure the Palestinians were kept down. Now, for the sake of making sure no one recognizes Palestine as a state, the US has cut off its $22 million a year dues to Unesco and has lost its voting rights on the committee.
This childish behavior, of taking your marbles and going home if you can’t win the playground game, is not befitting a superpower, and has the opposite effect of the one hoped for. It reduces US influence in the world and harms the American interest in seeing Unesco activities succeed. Are we really uninterested in preserving the world’s cultural heritage or in influencing world educational ideals?
It is an example in miniature of how US slavish acquiescence in aggressive and expansionist Israeli policy is hobbling the US, not increasing its stature.
Founded in 1945 and coming into force in 1946, Unesco has been important in preserving world heritage and archeological sites and promoting education and culture. Ironically, the US was recently using it to promote “Holocaust awareness” and to educate against genocide in Africa.
Unesco does so much worthy work that it deserves to have the US $22 million replaced. If 22 million people each gave a dollar a year, that would do it. But Unesco needs to join the 21st century– its Cultural Diversity contribution page doesn’t allow paypal or credit cards, just checks and bank wires! If somebody there were on the ball, they could start achieving a relationship with the world public and stop being so dependent on big states, and could get funded properly in that way.
In the meantime, American hawks who complain that the US is losing influence by having withdrawn militarily from Iraq and from declining to get involved militarily in Syria have it all wrong. Quagmires don’t increase your influence. But the US withdrawal from Unesco in a fit of pique over a Palestinian diplomatic achievement, now that is a loss of influence. And it demonstrates how knee-jerk US support for Likud Party policy is a liability for US foreign policy and makes the US less effective.