U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.N. cultural agency should “think again” about plans to vote on Palestinian membership as U.S. lawmakers threatened to cut tens of millions of dollars in funding for the organization.
Clinton said she finds it “inexplicable” that the Paris-based U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization would consider moving ahead with a Palestinian vote while the issue is still before the U.N. Security Council.
Earlier Wednesday, UNESCO’s board voted overwhelmingly to let its 193 member countries consider Palestinian admission later this month. The latest move in the Palestinians’ bid for statehood recognition also drew swift Israeli condemnation and a cool response from France.
With Mideast peace talks stalled and efforts to get Palestine recognized at the U.N. inching along, Palestinian diplomats are pursuing other, potentially faster routes toward getting the world community to consider their territories a nation.
The Palestinians are also seeking to join the World Trade Organization and won partnership status this week from the Council of Europe, the European Union’s main human rights body.
Washington is required by law to withhold funding for the agency if it were to accept the Palestinians as a member. The U.S. provides 22 percent of UNESCO’s budget, but was in the clear minority when the board voted 40-4 with 14 abstentions to recommend the Palestinian bid.
The U.S. withdrew from UNESCO in 1984 to protest a U.N. resolution adopted years earlier that had equated Zionism with racism and did not rejoin for nearly 20 years.
Clinton did not say how the U.S. would react, or if it would consider pulling out of the agency, if the Palestinians were granted membership.
France, which has advocated Palestinian observer status at the United Nations, said UNESCO is not the place to further the case for statehood and called for a return to peace negotiations.
Israeli diplomats are trying to persuade leading governments “not to politicize UNESCO,” saying a minority group is “hijacking” the organization for other purposes.
Palestinians have sought to join UNESCO before, to no avail.