The US State Department has confirmed this afternoon that it will be withdrawing from UNESCO as of December and will establish an observer mission at the Paris-based organization to replace its representation.
“This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO,” the department said.
UNESCO head Irina Bokova responded to the news saying that the withdrawal was a matter of “profound regret”.
— Andrew C. McCarthy (@AndrewCMcCarthy) October 12, 2017
The withdrawal comes after many months of the US condemning numerous rulings by the UN body which have favored Palestinian claims to sites in the Israeli-occupied territories.
US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley made the Trump administration’s position clear in July following UNESCO’s ruling that the Ibrahimi Mosque in the Old City of Hebron is a Palestinian World Heritage Site threatened by Israel. “The decision,” Haley claimed, “is an affront to history and further discredits an already highly questionable UN agency.”
The plan to withdraw from the international body was reportedly made several weeks ago, with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson informing French President Emmanuel Macron of America’s imminent departure. Such a move is also a cost-saving measure, as the US looks to pay off the country’s $500 million debt to the UN.
— Rahim Palestinian (@ben_arfa7) July 11, 2017
Once the withdrawal takes place, the US will remain as an observer state in meetings. It will not, however, be able to participate in any future decision-making.
Last year, UNESCO voted in favor of a resolution that denied any connection between Al-Aqsa Mosque and Judaism; Israel relies on such a claim in recognizing the Muslim holy site as the “Temple Mount”. In May, UNESCO ruled that Israel is an “occupying power” and condemned illegal Israeli activity in occupied East Jerusalem a month later.
The Israelis were angered once again in July following the designation of the Ibrahimi Mosque, a site which is stormed regularly by illegal Israeli settlers. In response, Israel and the US have cut funding to UNESCO on multiple occasions, accusing it of “anti-Semitism”.
— kamil khan (@kamilkh59446647) September 18, 2017
The Trump administration is not the first US government to take action against the UN body. In 2011, the then President Barak Obama cut more than $80 million of funding — a fifth of UNESCO’s total budget — in response to the organization admitting the State of Palestine as a member.
(MEMO, PC, Social Media)