By Alexander Vatutin
UNESCO’s decision to grant its fully-fledged membership to Palestine has proved a litmus paper test showing the international community’s stand on the Arab nation in question. While most UNESCO members voted in favour of the Palestinians’ membership bid, the United States, Israel, Canada and several other countries have now declared a boycott against UNESCO.
For there is no other way to describe the decision to withdraw funding from UNESCO by those opposed to Palestine’s integration into the UN. Given that the next organization that Palestine is going to seek membership of is the World Health Organization, the United States may again be tempted to economize by withdrawing its funding from the WHO. Historically, the United States has borne the brunt of UN funding, which is basically correct, since the US is world’s richest nation and it’s only fair that it pays the most. But it’s hardly acceptable that they are using their position to blackmail the international community. It would have been a far more reasonable thing to do if instead, they tried to understand the reasons behind the Palestinians’ attempt to integrate into the United Nations, and why most countries are prepared to vote for Palestine’s admission both to UNESCO and the Untied Nations. This is what Professor Irina Zviagelskaya of the Institute for Oriental Studies has to say on this.
“Many nations feel that the Middle East conflict has reached a blind alley, Irina Zviagelskaya says, although one and all acknowledge the need for the creation of a Palestinian State. The admission of Palestine to the United Nations, or to UNESCO, as was the case recently, would signal the world community’s readiness to support the idea of creating a Palestinian State, and would break the deadlock that the negotiating process has reached. It would enable Palestine to get a somewhat different status.”
Yet, the Palestinians’ recent appeal to the world public opinion has resulted in an aggravation of relations with their main opponent, Israel. The Jewish State authorities retaliated by ordering a speedy construction of settlements on the occupied lands and an end to the remitting of taxes and dues that are normally collected for the Palestinian authorities in Israel.
Besides, Israel has traditionally accused Palestine of a reluctance to resume the peace talks which broke down more than a year ago. But it was precisely because of Israel’s intransigence that the Palestinians were forced to suspend the talks. The stumbling block is the Israeli settlement-building policy. Now, Tel Aviv’s recent decision to speed up settlement construction may lead to completely unpredictable consequences.
Although Palestine has repeatedly pointed out that it does not see its efforts to join the United Nations as an alternative to peace talks with Israel, the United States has been bending over backwards to prove otherwise. Here is Irina Zviagelskaya’s explanation of the reasons for that:
“The US position is largely determined by the pledges it has given to Israel. Washington was sharply critical of Palestine’s admission to UNESCO as they felt that such recognition would substitute the peace talks. But this is not true since no decision to set up a Palestinian State could be reached without the talks. The issues of the occupied lands, Israeli settlements, border issues, the status of Jerusalem and the problem of refugees must all be agreed through negotiation first.”
Irina Zviagelskaya goes on to say that now it is important that the quartet of international mediators should step up its efforts; that the differences on Palestine’s integration into the UN agencies must be thrashed out and the negotiating process resumed. The more so since Palestine’s UN membership bid is now under discussion at the UN Security Council. It is hard to predict just what the discussion will end up with, but the Americans are prepared to use their right of veto in any case. But even then, Palestinians still have a chance to turn to the UN General Assembly and get an observer status, which is not bad either. They would then be in a position to apply to the International Court and raise the issue of the occupation of their lands. This is what Israel fears most. But the Palestinians could also go to another extreme, abolish their national administration and restore the status quo of twenty years ago. Then Israel would have to assume responsibility for the security and welfare on Palestinian lands. But this would be the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s final resort, and he will only use it if he makes sure he has exhausted all the other available resources in his attempts to implement the ‘Two States for Two Peoples’ principle. Now, this principle could only be achieved through talks with Israel, something which Palestinians are well aware of.