Colum Lynch
Foreign Policy (Blog)
October 6, 2011 - 12:00am

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's 58 member executive board voted on Wednesday to recommend the Palestinians as a new member, setting the stage for a high-stakes vote on the Palestinians admission later this month.

But U.S. law prohibits funding for U.N. bodies that grant membership to entities without "internationally recognized attributes of statehood."

It remains unclear whether the law would apply to admission of a Palestinian state. The 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States sets out four criteria for a new state -- a defined territory, a permanent population, a functioning government, and the wherewithal to "enter into relations with other states."

But Israel's backers in Congress warned that UNESCO's recognition of a Palestinian state could cost the Paris-based agency tens of millions of dollars in U.S. financial assistance. The United States gives UNESCO about $80 million dollars in funding, accounting for 22 percent of the organization's budget.

On Tuesday, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), pressed the Obama administration to inform the Palestinians that "any decision to upgrade the Palestinian mission's status by UNESCO or any other U.N. entity will let to a cutoff of U.S. funds to that entity."

The United States, along with Germany, Latvia, and Romania, voted against Wednesday's recommendation by UNESCO's board. France, which has not recognized a Palestinian state, abstained on the grounds that UNESCO is not the right place to determine the question of Palestinian statehood.

The Obama administration argued that any Palestinian drive for statehood that didn't result from direct talks with Israel could undermine the peace process. Speaking to reporters in the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, called the UNESCO board action "inexplicable" and counseled them to "think again" about the measure.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that government lawyers are studying what impact the Palestinian's admission would have on U.S. funding for UNESCO. The United States, she said,would use its diplomatic influence to seek to prevent the matter from coming to a vote.

"This is not the way to establish a Palestinian state," she said. "Once we've had a negotiated solution, once we have two states living in peace, with mutually agreed borders, then the Palestinian state will be in all of these organizations."

The United States and Israel both faulted the Palestinians for jeopardizing the outcome of an intiative by the Middle East Quartet, which includes representatives from the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations, to persuade the Palestinians and Israelis to restart political talks in the coming weeks.

But the Palestinians have asserted that their drive for statehood could run on a parrallel track to any possible resumption of peace talks. At this stage, it remains unclear whether those talks will in fact resume.


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