The Palestinians are in battle with the United States in two United Nations bodies, the Palestinian Authority foreign minister said Wednesday ahead of a vote in Paris.
Riyad al-Malki said the vote to admit Palestine as a member of UNESCO was a “small battle leading to the big battle in the Security Council”, which will soon vote on Palestine’s statehood bid.
“We are working hard to counter American pressure on poor countries to discourage them from voting for us”, al-Malki explained in an interview. He hoped more powerful countries would back the smaller ones.
The vote on Oct. 30 is part of a push, opposed by the United States, for recognition as a state in the UN system — a move the PLO hopes will strengthen its standing vis-à-vis Israel.
UNESCO is the first UN agency Palestine has sought to join as a full member since applying for full membership of the United Nations on Sept. 23. The bid for a full UN seat, which can be granted only by the Security Council, is destined to fail because of opposition by Washington, which has a veto in the forum.
But UNESCO is one agency Palestine can join as a full member regardless of their its UN status.
A vote in favor of Palestinian membership would trigger an automatic cutoff in US funding to the agency under US law. The United States provides 22 percent of UNESCO’s funding.
Al-Malki says the US is putting pressure on poor countries to prevent a successful outcome. He fears the bid could fail in the face of “huge pressure” to de-fund the world body, which relies on annual funding.
Speaking with Ma’an, he called on powerful Arab and Islamic countries to help “not only politically but financially,” to make up for US threats to cut of funding to UNESCO if Palestine is admitted.
The official says he will make Palestine’s case in front of UNESCO’s general conference on Sunday. The Palestinians are looking forward to the election the same day in order to become a full member.
Two-thirds of UNESCO’s members support Palestine “but that does not mean the US pressure won’t affect the position of those countries,” al-Malki cautioned.
The UNESCO board decided on Oct. 6 to allow the 193 member states to vote on the application for full admission — a bid signaling new determination to ignore pressure from Washington, one of the PA’s main donors.
The US views the quest for recognition as a state in the UN system as a unilateral move unhelpful to its efforts to revive peace negotiations with Israel, which it says are the only way forward.
PLO officials say peace talks with Israel, which also opposes the UN initiative, have brought them no closer to their goal of independence in the two decades since the negotiations first got under way.
The prospect of Palestine seeking full membership of other UN agencies heavily funded by the United States could threaten US financial support for bodies including the World Health Organization.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Reuters in an Oct. 12 interview she had made the case to US lawmakers that the administration should have the flexibility to decide whether or not to cut off such agencies if they take in Palestine.