The National (Editorial)
November 4, 2011 - 12:00am

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization says that it exists "to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information".

That's a heavy workload at any time. This week some of Unesco's worthy work became collateral damage. But now the UAE, newly elected to the group's 58-member Executive Board, has an opportunity to help guide Unesco around the worst results of a mean-spirited US law that has cut millions of dollars from Unesco's budget.

The Unesco agenda has unfortunately been somewhat politicised by this week's events. The group's General Conference, which meets every two years, voted to admit the Palestinian Authority as a full member, triggering a US law cancelling a $60 million (Dh220 million) payment. Add in anticipated similar action by Israel and Unesco's revenue will fall by a quarter.

Following the widely-reported vote on Palestinian membership, the General Conference conducted some less-publicised voting, electing new executive board members, including the UAE. One of 58 seats on a body that meets only every six months may not seem like much, but in fact the selection of the UAE is significant and promising.

It is noteworthy that the UAE's candidacy won the support of 144 of the 186 members voting, almost 40 votes more than the second-highest total for the seats reserved for Arab states. The number suggests how much respect and stature the UAE has acquired in world affairs.

The challenge now is for all the board members to further Unesco's work. States on good terms with the US, for example, could help cajole Congress into rescinding the punitive law that cut funding. In the interim, members could lobby their own governments to give more.

As Unesco's director-general, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, noted this week, Unesco's numerous programmes currently include work to foster a free press in several Arab Spring states, to teach Afghan police officers to read, to expand Holocaust education worldwide and other projects dear to the US and policymakers elsewhere.

The PA hopes to join as many as 16 other UN bodies. To limit the damage done by American truculence, so that these groups can function as they are intended to do, is a challenge which the UAE can help to mee


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017