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The US, UNESCO and Palestine

As the international community slowly marches to the inevitable and long-overdue recognition of Palestine, the United States attempts to put on the brakes, slowing the vehicle, perhaps, but certainly not stopping it. The decision by Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, to accept the Palestinian request for full membership by an overwhelming vote, is a great step toward UN acceptance. In response, the U.S., once again flouting international opinion and surrendering to the powerful Israeli lobby, cut off funding to Unesco.

It is telling that, despite the warning in advance of the vote that the U.S., which provides 22% of Unesco funding, would withdraw all funding, 107 member nations voted to accept Palestine (14 opposed and 52 abstained).  Despite clear international consensus, the U.S. and 13 other nations, including, of course, Israel, attempt to buck the trend. The U.S., nearly bankrupt itself, attempts now to use its financial clout (whatever there may be left of it), to punish the U.N. for this step.

This is not the first time that Unesco has drawn the self- righteous wrath of an angry U.S. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan withdrew the U.S. from Unesco, citing what he called its anti-Americanism, and highly politicized activities. Mr. Reagan said at the time that Unesco had departed from its original mandate. It wasn’t until 2002 that the U.S. condescended to rejoin Unesco, under the watchful eye of President George Bush.

Let us look for a moment at the mandate of Unesco, the organization that now is deprived of 22% of its funding. The following is taken from the Unesco website:

*   UNESCO works to create the conditions for dialogue among civilizations, cultures and peoples, based upon respect for commonly shared values.

And,

*    UNESCO’s mission is to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information.

Unfortunately, these do not sound like things the U.S. is particularly interested in.

Reviewing this small portion of the Unesco mandate in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the one that is the basis for the U.S. to withdraw funding, is instructive. What, one might ask, has the U.S. done to ‘create the conditions for dialogue’ between Israel and Palestine? It slaps Israeli on the wrist when that nation announces more construction on disputed land, but quickly backs off and offers nothing but wholehearted support whenever Israel decides to drop bombs on the Gaza Strip.

The U.S., so insistent on assuring that Iraq adheres to any and all U.N. resolutions concerning that nation, is not quite so ardent in seeing that Israel does so. The numerous violations of U.N. resolutions about Israel’s horrific treatment of the Palestinians are overlooked.

As Israel controls all the borders of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, preventing much needed supplies from entering (medical, construction, etc.); destroys reservoirs; bulldozes homes; delays Palestinians at countless checkpoints for endless hours; forces Palestinians to take long, circuitous routes to their own property and places of employment, and generally treats them as they were treated as the Nazi regime grew in strength, the U.S. continues its worthless refrain about ‘negotiations.’

These steps do not seem to be consistent with Unesco’s mandate of contributing “to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue….” Since Israel is the nation violating these goals, the U.S. is happy to withdraw its support of Unesco’s efforts.

The Unesco vote brought this pearl of wisdom from U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice: “Today’s vote to grant Palestinian membership in UNESCO is no substitute for direct negotiations, but it is deeply damaging to UNESCO.” She is right in that the vote is certainly not a substitute for direct negotiations; such negotiations have been, and always will be, a complete waste of time, time that the Palestinians don’t have, as they are born, grow up, grow old and die under a cruel occupation. The vote is a constructive move, one that brought the Palestinians more dignity and prestige than generations of nonsensical negotiations have ever accomplished.

White House spokesman Jay Carney also weighed in, saying that the vote “is premature and undermines the international community’s shared goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. Today’s vote distracts us from our shared goal of direct negotiations that results in a secure Israel and an independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security.”

Increasingly, the international community is growing impatient with useless attempts by the U.S. to bring about a ‘just and lasting peace in the Middle East.’ The vote today in the U.N. underscores that fact dramatically, even if Mr. Carney seems blind to it. The fantasy of the ‘shared goal of direct negotiations’ is one that appears to be long dismissed by much of the international community; if that were not the case, 107 member nations would not have voted in favor of the Palestinian bid for membership.

Perhaps we can take a moment to look into our crystal ball, and see what comes next for Palestine at the U.N. Their request for member state status in the Security Council will be voted affirmatively by a majority of members, with the U.S. vetoing it, being unable to browbeat sufficient members to vote against it. Israel will breath an ill-timed sigh of relief, as it becomes further isolated, risking, rather than improving, its security. The U.S. Congress can rely on huge donations from the various Israeli lobbies that own them, thus helping to ensure their ability to keep their do-nothing jobs. The U.S. will continue to move toward the pariah status it had in the world during the murderous, deadly regime of President Bush. And the Palestinians will continue, by slow, patient effort, to win recognition, moving from a defeat in the Security Council to a victory in the General Assembly.

The path to independent statehood will not be easy, but the journey has begun, and will not end until a two-state solution is achieved. It will not be the work of the United States that accomplishes this. Israel’s efforts to sabotage this solution will be deadly, but ultimately unsuccessful. Both nations will be marginalized, as more fair-minded nations take the lead, mainly by efforts orchestrated through the United Nations.

The tragedy is not just in the decades during which the Palestinians have suffered; it is not just in the difficult transition that has now begun, that will see more heart-breaking suffering before ultimate victory. It is also in the lost opportunities of both the United States and Israel to seize the moment, act fairly, and work to implement a quick and peaceful outcome to this long, deadly and unfair ordeal. That so much suffering could have been prevented, if only two powerful nations had chosen to do what is right, rather than what is political expedient, is the compounded tragedy of this sad situation.

Robert Fantina is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006

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Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Pill Press).

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