Tuesday, November 1, 2011
palestine and education, science, and culture
Yesterday, UNESCO voted and accepted the Palestinian bid for membership, thereby straining United States relations with the agency and the United Nations in general. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, promotes education, literacy, and gender equality worldwide and is also responsible for designating world heritage sites. The U.S. donates each year a large part of the UNESCO budget, funding almost a quarter of its budget actually. However, as UNESCO has now recognized Palestine as a full member and thus as a internationally recognized nation, the United States will now be forced to suspend contributions to the organization due to American legislation prohibiting involvment in any United Nations organization that supports any country not recognized by a state by the US, which in this case specifically means Palestine. As the Palestinians submitted their bid for membership, American ambassadors and representatives attempted to dissuade the Palestinians from continuing. As Palestine attempts to be recognized by the United Nations as a souvereign nation separate from Israel, US officials, including President Obama, denounced this move as premature. Though Israel and the PLO exchanged letters of recognition in 1993, the United States argues that any move toward peace must originate from direct negotiations between the two countries. American officials have not moved to change US legislation to allow continuing funding to UNESCO, and seem to express no sympathy with this Palestinian effort. Instead of going forward with this bid for full membership with UNESCO, the US has suggested having Palestine sign UNESCO conventions as a "non-state" observer, such as the European Union is recognized. This would potentially allow the organization to list World Heritage sites currently in Israeli control as Palestinian. But the EU is not a nation; it is an economic zone, thus I think the comparison made by this suggestion is bunk. Palestine wants nationhood and the "two-state solution" has been the ultimate goal in negotiations between Israel and Palestine for years. Why undermine that goal now? In part, I blame the election cycle. I blame pressure from the Israelis. I blame Obama's weakness. There is no reason the US government should renege on its its cultural, scientific, and educational obligations to the Palestinians and to the world due to pressure from Israel, a wealthy county to which we already contribute too much aid. I can think of no reason Obama would oppose UN recognition of Palestine, of Palestinian state-hood, of Palestinian involvement in UNESCO other than pressure from Israel and fear of alienation of Jewish voters in the upcoming presidential election. For a president who originally suggested the Palestinians move to achieve recognition from the UN, Obama needs to give back his Nobel peace prize if he is now going back on his word to ensure his own re-election.