UNESCO Palestine Vote Isolates US Further

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recognized Palestine as a full member on Monday setting off a crisis between the United States and the United Nations that seems likely to further isolate Washington in the world and reduce its influence.

The UNESCO vote could start an avalanche of such acceptances among various UN bodies. Although Palestine is unlikely now to get a majority next month at the UN Security Council, there is always next year. And the admission of Palestine by large numbers of UNO organizations might anyway have a similar effect to a UNSC majority vote.

Countries such as Norway and Ireland have signaled that they would like to raise Palestinian representation to full embassy status, and every international vote like the UNESCO one encourages them further in this direction. In turn, embassy status could begin giving Palestine standing in some countries to sue Israel in third-country courts for torts such as land and water usurpation.

Since a law passed by Congress in the 1990s forbids the US from funding UN bodies that recognize Palestine, the Obama administration has no choice but to withdraw the $80 million a year it gives UNESCO, which is a fifth of the agency’s budget. But what this step really means is that the US loses influence over UNESCO, and indeed, it might well lose its membership in the organization. UNESCO may have to close some offices and lose employees. Or someone else, such as Saudi Arabia or China, might pick up the $80 million, gaining influence over UNESCO at US expense.

If the move becomes common, the US could end up further and further isolated and helpless. What if the International Atomic Energy Agency recognizes Palestine as a member? If the US cuts it off, it loses a key arena within which it has been pressuring Iran over its nuclear enrichment program. And so on and so forth.

The overwhelming influence in the US Congress of the Israel lobbies (including those of the Christian Zionists) are leading the US down a path of increasing international isolation and weakness. The US vote against Palestine is the headline on the Arab satellite television news programs, and even in India and Russia it is a vote that makes the US look like an ogre.

The UNESCO vote was 107 for, 14 against, and 52 abstentions; 14 were absent. The vote had to be won by a two-thirds majority of states voting “yes” or “no.” Thus, to abstain in this situation was more or less to help the Palestinians win.

That voting pattern, in turn, reveals the shape of US influence in the world. The vote was not simply the West versus the Rest. Although Latin America, Africa and Asia strongly supported Palestinian membership, so too in the end did France. And Britain and Italy abstained rather than voting against. The rising BRIC bloc, of Brazil, Russia, India, and China all voted for. There appear only to be about 14 pro-Zionist countries left in the world, 12 beyond the United States and Israel itself.

The Israeli ambassador to UNESCO called the vote “science fiction,” since, he said, it recognized an imaginary state. The old Israeli inability to see the 11 million-strong Palestinian people as a nation-state, which once led Israeli consuls in the US to promote letter-writing campaigns against US newspapers that even used the word “Palestinian” in their stories, is obviously still intact.

More important, UNESCO recognition of Palestinian cultural monuments as world heritage sites could well complicate the slow Israeli theft of Palestinian territory on the West Bank and in and around Jerusalem. That usurpation of land and resources is made possible because the Israelis engineered the statelessness, i.e. the national homelessness, of the Palestinians.

Palestine had been scheduled by the League of Nations for statehood, as a Class A Mandate, and as late as 1939 the British government was pledging a Palestinian state within a decade. The ethnic cleansing campaign of militant members of the Yishuv in Palestine and then by Israelis led to the expulsion of 700,000 or so Palestinians from their homes. But they didn’t just become refugees, losing all their property. They became stateless. Statehood is the right to have rights. Palestinians not only have no rights, they don’t have the right to have them. That is why the Israeli pledges to them in the Oslo peace process could be reneged on so easily. Palestinians are the nobodies of the Levant, the non-entities, the marks and fall guys.

The vote demonstrates again the sea change that has taken place in the international community regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I believe that there are several reasons for this change:

1. Everyone can see that the Israeli government of PM Yitzhak Rabin made undertakings to the Palestinians as part of the Oslo peace accords, such as withdrawal from the West Bank, on which the Israelis reneged.

2. The Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006 made it look like a reckless bully.

3. The Israeli blockade of basic necessities for Palestinian non-combatants and children in the Gaza Strip from 2007 made the Israelis look heartless.

4. The Israeli attack on little Gaza in 2008-2009, where 40 percent of the population is camp-dwelling refugees whose families were expelled from what is now Israel in 1947-1948, made Israel look like a reckless bully.

5. The Israeli attack on the Turkish aid ship the Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010, in which commandos killed 9 persons, one an American citizen, made Israel look like a reckless bully.

6. Constant Israeli announcements of expanded settlements on Palestinian territory are widely seen as breaking international law, as well as a form of theft.

Disgust with these Israeli policies of continually victimizing the Palestinians is so widespread and deep that even Germany has just threatened to cancel the delivery to Israel of a submarine because of the announcement of settlements in Arab east Jerusalem. Germany, for understandable historical reasons, almost never criticizes Israel. But the Likud attempt to expel Palestinians from their long-time homes in Jerusalem has pushed even Berlin to criticize the policy publicly.

It isn’t just the world community that is dismayed at the setting in of long-term Israeli Apartheid. Even the widow of Israeli war hero Moshe Dayan now laments,

“I’m a peacemaker, but the current Israeli government does not know how to make peace. We move from war to war, and this will never stop. I think Zionism has run its course.”…

“Today we use foreign labor to work in Israel because Palestinians are not allowed. And this continuous expansion of the settlements everywhere-—I cannot accept it. I cannot tolerate this deterioration in the territories and the roadblocks everywhere. And that horrible wall! It’s not right.”

Aljazeera English reports on the UNESCO vote:

31 Responses

  1. I’m making a prediction that AIPAC’s mouthpiece, CBS’s 60 Minutes, will run a propaganda piece demonizing UNESCO within the next few weeks.

    • It’s interesting that you make that claim as I saw 60 Minutes as one of the few news outlets not spewing propaganda. Go to youtube and look up their “Is Peace Out of Reach?” story about how the settlements are intended to destroy the peace process. It also touched on the other humiliations of the occupation (being forced to use separate roads in their own land, submitting to searches, having their homes occupied as outposts, etc) You’d never see a report like this on CNN.

  2. I heard this morning a fleeting bit of news that Canada will follow suit and withhold funding. The Israelis aren’t the only “reckless bully” in the room although they are the most practiced.

  3. It is amazing how far the US Congress is behind the curve, behind the world, and even behind thier own constituents whose support for Israel is thinning as fast as the polar icecaps. Most members seem completely uninformed about the history of the formation is Israel – the real history of ethnic cleansing, not the propaganda propounded by Israel over the last 60 years. I believe AIPAC is very influencial in effecting the choice of congressional aids available to the members of Congress so that many of the congressianal staff are in positions to filter information reaching the congressmen in their offices, eliminating information unfavorable to Israel. This is an inference I make based of a limited sample of interactions I have had with congressional aids. I also note the remark made in the Mearsheimer and Walt book, “The Israeli Lobby” stating that no one running for office in California will have Democratic Party support unless he can pass the ‘pro-Israel’ test administered by Congressman Howard Berman aid, Mike Berman.

    • Do you really think they are “behind the curve”? Or is it simply a matter of pragmatics, i.e. one who criticizes Israel does not get elected, and may have some mud slung at them as well.

    • I don’t think Americans believe that Israel did not commit ethnic cleansing. I think the chilling thing that happened is that Americans still think ethnic cleansing can be justified when the cleansers are “right” enough and the victims are “wrong” enough. Israel took advantage of that archaic mentality and exploited all the prejudices which influence whom is seen as right and whom is seen as wrong.

      Now why did that archaic mentality survive in America, the country that did the most 60 years ago to champion the universality of definitions of human rights? Will it take Americans experiencing all the horrors of the world wars before their own eyes to accept that the very idea that there are “good” races that must rule “bad” races is suicide?

  4. Afghanistan also receives UNESCO funding. This nonsense will affect even US “nation-building” efforts there — demonstrating once again how being servile to Israel is counter to American interests.

  5. Good summary of the reasons for world disgust with Israel.

    The USA has no talent for “playing well with other children.” If we will “play” at all, we want to be the leader. If the other children stop doing what we want them to do, we either make war on them (Iraq, Afghanistan, Grenada, Panama, Vietnam) or take our marbles and go home (UNESCO and UN).

    Our diplomacy is all a mask for command and control, not a mechanism for coming to mutually agreeable compromises. To listen to our politicians and diplomats publicly “laying down the law” to other countries is to be appalled at USA arrogance.

    If we are good at giving orders, we are also good at taking orders. Thus the predominance in USA of the BIGs (BIG BANKS, BIG OIL, BIG ARMAMENTS, BIG PHARMA, BIG ISRAEL) and our politicians have so thoroughly learned to take orders from these folks that they do not even see anything wrong or questionable when they do so. The 987 kow-tows that Congress gave Bibi in the USA’s Knesset shows the lack of anything like back-bone or honor in the USA’s politican establishment.

    Time for the USA to think these things through, and come out with a better result. Revoking the “no-money to UN” law might be a good place to start.

    • You have nailed it. The United States has only operated at two extreme poles in its political relationship with the outside world. We refused to participate in it, until we could utterly dictate to it. And both those positions are at least subconsciously based on a supremacist bigotry.

  6. The reasons listed for the sea change are all due to the behavior of Israel. I would note a couple more, not due to the rogue behavior of Israel, but to the reality of things.
    1) The internet, and Yourtube, where the abuse and degradation of Paleseatinians is not just an abstraction, but can actually be witnessed.
    2) The proliferations of books and writings by world class writers and historians such as Ilan Pappe, and even Benny Morris, and others, and bloggers such as Dr Cole.

  7. Thanks for the reminder of why the UNESCO de-funding happened – I had been wondering, since the articles I’d read didn’t mention the law passed by the Republican Congress during the Clinton administration.

    Thanks also for the list of consequences. I’m going to write my Congresspeople and Senators about this. Blind obedience to Israel will have immediate and ever-increasing costs; maybe it’s time we tightened our belts.

  8. “a vote that makes the US look like an ogre”. Heck, in matters of Palestine and Israel, the U.S. IS an ogre.

    And the comments of Israeli ambassador to UNESCO typify the bullying cynicism of that multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religion state. He says the UNESCO vote is science fiction because Palestine is an imaginary state.

    That’s why even former friends of Israel are turning against it. Israel forcefully keeps Palestinians stateless, without a single human or civil right, and then mockingly blames the victim for not having a state. Hey, ambassador, God is not mocked, not without consequences anyway.

    If Israel keeps going down this path unaltered, and I mean it needs to radically change its position toward inclusiveness, then Israel will destroy itself one way or the other and won’t even be in existence any more in order to blame someone else for misery it brings on itself.

    The self-inflicted tragedy – through hubris, paranoia, and attempted revenge against ghosts – is the most tragic of all.

  9. I must be meaner than you. You use the words “look like a bully” and “widely seen as a form of theft”, and “look heartless”. I commend your civility and temperament. However, “has repeatedly demonstrated Israel’s reckless bullying”, “maintains by force an oppressive policy of national thievery”, and “serial episodes of nihilistic (what heartless really means) murderous campaigns against civilians” all seem court-of-law demonstrable.

    Should Israel not be allowed to commit the abuses that other countries historically committed, and many still commit? Yes, Israel should not be allowed to do so. Nor should the U.S., Britain, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, et al, be any longer allowed to do so; i.e., Serbia has rejoined the fold of a better humanity thanks to world opinion and force. It can happen. Even the U.S. is not immune to world opinion and perhaps other ‘persuasion’. For instance, China could wave a pretty sharp Damocles sword over the U.S.

    If Israel thinks the world is holding it to a higher standard than other countries, it should disavow itself of this rationalization for its longstanding commitment to opportunistic fearful fits of rage. No other country currently holds 11 million people hostage and without any rights whatsoever and has a growing part of its government committed to ethnically cleansing them into other countries.

    The world is changing. Israel should get on the right side of history or it will disappear from it and it will be its own fault. Give up the ghost of Nazis past so as to not remain the least bit similar to such yourself, my people. Same goes for my fellow U.S. citizens, but with its oligarchic white supremacist imperialism past substituting for Nazis.

  10. I’m just wondering how long it will take for the majority of our own population to wake up on this issue. The ignorance on the part of many Americans (including most of our elected officials) regarding the Middle East is beyond estimation. Plus, for many it’s a matter of belief rather than fact, which is an extremely difficult mindset to overcome (or even to engage rationally).

  11. What do you mean by “EVEN the widow of Israeli War hero Moshe Dayan now laments”? Did you think all Israelis supported the actions of the government? Most Israelis who live in Tel Aviv and Haifa can’t stand the settlers.

    • “Most Israelis who live in Tel Aviv and Haifa can’t stand the settlers.”

      What will it take to mobilize them, then?

  12. Contributing to UNESCO has long been a traditional practice by individual Americans. What reasonable person could oppose its mission of promoting the rule of law and international peace? Whatever one may think of the politics at the General Assembly, UNESCO reflects American values.

    It seems to be time for American citizens to vote with their checkbooks and donate to UNESCO.

    • Wow. Thats a brave journalist! He completely exposed her…

  13. Want a positive sign? Even 10 years the odds of such a series of responses clearly seeing through what Israel is up to would’ve been nil, even for a seriously contrarian/intellectual venue. (With apologies to Noam Chomsky).

    And at this hour, notice how the Israelis are accelerating development of their Eastern Jerusalem takings, in response/punishment for the Palestinian impertinence (in so many words).

    This is partially due to the ever further right-leaning regime they have in power, but I think the more important point is….and get this…they really do think this is an appropriate response that will somehow (???) work to their advantage.

    To those in the LIkud monitoring this site and taking notes on developments among their “enemies”, take a note and pass it up:


    • ‘IF YOU FIND YOURSELF IN A HOLE, STOP DIGGING.”- Why?? this works very well for them – before they were building with no justification at all – now at least they have the pathetic reasoning that they are land stealing/building as ‘punishment’ – so its open and justified ?!*
      So more apt in this case would be ‘Change occurs when the cost of doing the same is greater than the cost of changing’ …and right now Israel is gaining land in the West Bank and loosing nothing.

  14. Great article as usual.

    Incredibly crude for hackers to be attacking the Palestinian infrastructure after the UNESCO vote. Then the stories of increased weapons programs, Bibi wants to attack Iran, certainly expand on the theme of ‘Israel as reckless bully’.

    Whatever the Arab Spring, its not good timing for the US to mindlessly cut adrift all its multilateral links in the UN to show how much it values it bilateral link to Israel. The spectacle of US politicans dancing to Bibi’s crazy tune is jaw-dropping.

  15. Perhaps this an opportunity for The Nobel Peace Prize Committee to retract Obama’s award?

    If UNESCO has not made a contribution in the past, it does so now. This vote gives the public, which it needs, better recognition of the Palestinian people. The steam of the lie dispersed. We can now more clearly distinguish who and what powers are at play. This is Art.

    In the future, citizens might consider avoiding paying taxes to bureaucracies like the US government and instead insist on determining for themselves where their money goes.

    UNESCO would fair better with private support.

  16. So bomb Iran. Takes the attention off the fact that the Palestinians won a point.

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