The US hissy fit punishment of UNESCO for its recognition of Palestine makes even more of a mockery of America's continuing role in Middle East peace negotiations.

UNESCO’s vote to recognise Palestine is gutsy on the part of the UN body, symbolic yet encouraging for the Palestinians and very revealing with respect to the lip service paid to democracy by the United States and those who cling to its increasingly shredded skirts.

As with the 2006 election of Hamas through a democratic process urged at the time by the Bush administration, the Americans don’t approve of UNESCO’s overwhelming democratic vote for Palestine, so there must be consequences.

Hamas won but because it is deemed a ‘terrorist’ organisation (even though Israel deals with Hamas when it suits) the siege of Gaza was tightened to punish Palestinians for exercising their democratic right to vote.  Now UNRESCO’s members representing their states voted according to democratic principles in the General Conference, but the US, its ethnocratic ally Israel, and others who can’t stand up for themselves, have declared that UNESCO also should be punished.

Democracy is only applicable if those with money and superior military forces approve. Given the threats to UNESCO before this vote and to the PLO before its September application to the UN Security Council, they can’t say they weren’t warned!  

No wonder the Palestinians went around the US and Israel and appealed to UN member states for recognition. They have been locked in negotiations for twenty years with Israel the occupier and the US as the mediator – a formula no sane person would consider worthy of the term ‘negotiation’, and once again confirmed as such.

So, as bullies do, the US has threatened to take its toys home, and cripple UNESCO by denying it the 22% ($US 60m) of its budget that US contribution comprises. Canada, which seems to have a Prime Minister who think Israel is another of his provinces, is now furiously looking for a way of justifying denying UNESCO the $12 million annual Canadian contribution.  Israel and others will no doubt follow suit.

At least this time, New Zealand moved closer to the right side of history and abstained, along with 51 others.  Importantly Britain also abstained and France joined 106 others to vote for the resolution.

As was the case in February when the US vetoed a UN resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlements (even though the resolution was worded according to US policy), it is difficult to imagine Obama personally agrees with the absurd 1990 US law behind the UNESCO debacle which prohibits any White House administration from contributing to any UN agency which recognises a non-state entity – aka, the Palestinians.

It is yet another little peek into that US anathema to democracy – the vice-like grip the Israel Lobby has on campaign fundraising – demonstrated most recently in the September loss of a safe Democratic New York  seat with a 40% Jewish constituency and a victor who unapologetically told Obama the result was payback for the President’s appeasing of Arab states and pushing too hard against Israeli settlement construction.

The perpetual campaign is a hard taskmaster.

So what’s the problem with Palestine being a member of UNESCO?  After all within the occupied territory that is supposed to be the State of Palestine, there are some pretty historic sites such as the Church of the Nativity which could only benefit from the World Heritage status UNESCO can bestow.

According to all the statements the American have issued, they too want to stay a part of UNESCO, but according to the rules of that body, if they don’t pay their dues, they will be turfed out – as would anyone else.

But of course it is not about protecting historic places or advancing culture.  It is about who is in control – of UNESCO, of any other UN body, and most of all, of the Palestinians.

The Americans have, true to their version of democracy and freedoms for non-Americans, warned of a cascade of punishment for any UN bodies who might follow UNESCO’s lead...first up apparently is the World Intellectual Property Organization which serves American businesses by presiding over cases of alleged copyright breaches and the like. What seems odd about Washington directing an abandonment of such a body rather than have the Palestinians allowed through its doorway, is that it will be US business interests that suffer. Nice timing Mr Economic Crisis.

How does such a blind policy work in US interests?

Well just as the world has been treated to the ideologies that now control the US Congress, this too is about ideological politics, not what is right or wrong or good for the country or anyone else. It is about being elected and calling the shots on behalf of political interests.  It is a foreign policy version of the Republican’s ‘anything-to-make-Obama-a one-term-president’ fiscal policy that just so happens to risk a double-dip recession. 

The reality however is things have changed of late. There is now overwhelming support around the world resulting from the dogged diplomacy of the Palestinians over the last couple of years in particular, and the more the world learns, the more there has been an equally earned loss of Washington’s moral suasion.

First UNESCO, then the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank Group?  Well the Palestinians certainly know the list of possibilities given that after their 1988 Declaration of Independence America moved quickly to block PLO admission to the World Health Organization and, tah dah, UNESCO. 

PLO attempts to join the International Telecommunications Union last year also faltered in the face of US opposition.  When the PLO applied to have the International Criminal Court preside over the Palestinian territories, the Israeli government struck back by warning the Court to stay out of politics for fear of encouraging the PLO and other entities – one of which just happens to be the new UN member state of Southern Sudan.

What would happen if, just by chance, the International Atomic Energy Agency granted membership to Palestine, or, what if a renewed Palestinian application to the WHO was successful? Would the US abandon its seats at those tables because it was more important to appease Israel than to continue to work for nuclear disarmament, AIDS eradication or prevent the next Swine Flu?  

It is truly ludicrous. Once again this “unbreakable” bond between the US and Israel will damage the interests of both states within the volatile Middle East for the simple reason that the policies are unjust – and therefore unjustifiable.

 Their joint mantra is this sort of thing will do huge damage to the possibility of peace in the Middle East. Exactly how, neither can say.  It is a tired and empty threat to harp on about negotiations being the only vehicle for peace between Israel and the Palestinians when no such negotiations exist, not even the Quartet can get them going again, and with each move such as this last hissy fit against UNESCO, the US loses more of its questionable credibility to mediate.  

By far the majority of the countries of the world can see that – not always for altruistic reasons by any means – but see it they do.  More importantly for Palestine, they are beginning to act.

Comments (2)

by Andrew P Nichols on November 03, 2011
Andrew P Nichols

"At least this time, New Zealand moved closer to the right side of history and abstained, along with 51 others".

The "right thing"?

Gimme a break. What on earth prevented Keys lot voting yes and showing that it was in tune with the vast majority of the worlds population?

Abstention is just gutless bob each way stuff - rather typical of Smiley Key's govt actually...

by Jane Young on November 03, 2011
Jane Young

Andrew I agree with your 'abstain' sentiments....but what I was saying was that NZ moved closer, as in did not vote against, the Palestinians which has been the case so often in the past....what you SHOULD expect from a country that likes to present itself as a champion of human and equal rights is full support of the Palestinian case for independence. NZ's vote in the UNGA (should there be one) on the PLO application will be watched closely. 

I see today that the 'punishment' the Israeli government has decided appropriate for those insubordinate Palestinians and UNESCO delegates is to speed up building of 2000 Jewish only settler homes in East Jerusalem (which is illegally annexed by Israel and is supposed to be the capital of Palestine), and Israel will withhold about $1m in tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority - a form of collective 'punishment' Israel has used in the past. Perhaps Netanyahu could tell the world what right he has to act so "unilaterally" (which is the sin Israel charges the PLO with in its bid to the UN for recognition); and how denying the PA the money which it uses to pay its 160,000 + employees will bring about a peaceful settlement through trust and respect?

I would have thought further financial strains in an already strained population is dangerously close to sparking a physical reaction. How the outrage that has been seen in other oppressed peoples in the Middle East has not flared up at the checkpoints and separation wall I do not know. 

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