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US, Israel withdraw from UNESCO, accusing the cultural body of 'anti-Israel bias’

Oct 13, 2017 13:15 IST
US, Israel withdraw from UNESCO, accusing the cultural body of 'anti-Israel bias’

The United States and its ally Israel announced on 12 October 2017 that they were pulling out of the UN's culture and education body, UNESCO, accusing it of anti-Israel bias.

Speaking on the decision, the US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that the decision was not taken lightly and it reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation and continuing anti-Israel bias.

The decision comes as the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation is voting to choose a new director, intense balloting overshadowed by the agency’s funding troubles and divisions over Palestinian membership.

This is the second such instance when the US has withdrawn itself from a major multilateral commitment after President Donald Trump took charge, first being its withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate change agreement.  It underlines Trump’s ‘America First’ policies.

The outgoing Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, called the US withdrawal a 'loss to multilateralism', while UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that he 'regrets this development deeply'.

 US announces its exit from UNESCO

"At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack," said Bokova.

Background

• This is not the first time that the US has walked out of the UN body. It previously withdrew itself from the 195-member organisation once before under former president Ronald Reagan.

• It was under President George W Bush that the US returned to the body in 2002, but relations soured again in 2011 when Barack Obama pulled the plug on funding to the body after its members voted to admit Palestine as a full member.

• Despite cutting its funding to the agency the US had continued to cooperate with UNESCO since 2011 on programmes of interest to the Americans, such as combating the rise of extremism and perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust.

• US is against any move by UN bodies to recognise the Palestinian territories as a state, believing that this must await a negotiated Middle East peace deal.

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Why does the US not recognize Palestine but recognizes Israel?

• Firstly, the United States has recognized Israel since it was established.

• The State of Palestine declared independence in 1988 during six years of uprising.

• Most of the areas claimed by the State of Palestine have been occupied by Israel since 1967.

• Neither the US nor Israel recognize Palestine as a state because recognition of statehood also implies a recognition of the state’s borders.

• While Israel defined its borders as suggested by UNSCOP, and then by the results of a war with a cease-fire and a cease-fire line (green line) agreement, Palestine does not have a defined border.

• Without a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinian governments determining the borders, recognition of Palestine would, in effect, negate recognition of Israel or reject Israel’s legitimate control over its present borders.

• The US supported a peace agreement and therefore it doesn’t and will not recognize the State of Palestine until there is a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

About UNESCO

• It is a specialised agency of the United Nations that has its headquarters in Paris.

• Its main objective is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms.

• It also aims to contribute to the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information.

• It is the successor of the League of Nations' International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation.

• The organisation has 195 member states and 10 associate members.

• UNESCO pursues its objectives through five major programs: education, natural sciences, social/human sciences, culture and communication/information.

Under UNESCO rules, the US exit will take effect on 21 December 2018, when it will establish an "observer mission" to replace its representation at the agency.

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