UNESCO voted 107-14, with 52 abstentions, to accept Palestine’s membership on October 31, despite a $70 million cutoff of American funding. The vote vindicates the current Palestinian diplomatic strategy while exposing a US weakness in preventing growing global recognition of Palestinian statehood.
In a revealing development, nine UN Security Council members voted to accept the Palestinians in UNESCO, the same number required to accept a Palestinian bid for full UN membership, The New York Times had reported on Tuesday morning that US pressure on Bosnia, a non-permanent Security Council member, “appeared to deny the Palestinians the chance for nine yes votes, making an American veto appear unnecessary.” Later in the day, however, Time and CNN reported that a Security Council bloc of nine voted yes, including Brazil, China, Gabon, France, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Russia and South Africa.
The depth of American isolation was further revealed by Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Libya all voting against the US position. (Guardian, November 1, 2011)
The overwhelming UNESCO vote positions Israel and the Israel Lobby in the uncomfortable roles of opposing American national interests. The US quit the organization in 1984, then rejoined in 2003. The Obama administration, which places a high value on UNESCO membership, lobbied unsuccessfully against the Palestinian bid. Usual American allies like France, Belgium and India voted in favor of the Palestinians along with Brazil, China and Russia.
UNESCO membership allows the Palestinians an important role in defining heritage and historical sites in occupied Palestine. More important, it opens a path to membership in the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Health Organization and fifteen other UN-related agencies.
On the question of UN recognition of a Palestinian state, the US is seeking to avoid having to veto the Palestinian application by lobbying other members of the Security Council to abstain or vote no. Nine of 15 Security Council members are required to approve a membership bid. With nine voting for the Palestinians on UNESCO seating, the US is likely to lobby another Council member to abstain.
Under fierce pressure from Israel and its American allies, the US administration is steadily losing influence over the international diplomatic debate, with UNESCO brushing off the threatened loss of millions in US contributions. The emergence of a post-Mubarak Egypt shifts the balance of regional power further away from Tel Aviv and Washington as well, leaving the US dependent on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies.