Twenty-five years ago, when President Reagan withdrew the United States from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO was widely seen as politicized, persistently hostile to U.S. interests, and an enemy of free markets and a free press. In recent years, it has been one of the UN’s few successful reform stories. The agency has led efforts to promote freedom of the press and education for women around the world and has effectively run programs expanding literacy and access to clean water.
That’s the tragic back story to a decision by a vast majority of its members to admit Palestine into the organization as its newest member. The move immediately required the United States to cut its funding to UNESCO, under legislation meant to thwart UN agencies from recognizing a Palestinian state. As a result, the Obama administration will not make a planned $60 million payment to the agency due this month.
Jewish organizations, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, applauded the cutoff, saying it sent the right message and kept American taxpayer dollars from subsidizing a global forum that is working “against U.S. interests, and against the interests of peace.” The UNESCO vote has already encouraged the Palestinian Authority to seek membership in as many as 16 additional specialized UN bodies. Mahmoud Abbas appears convinced that the road to Palestinian statehood runs not through Jerusalem, nor alongside his Israeli counterparts, but through a world body demonstrably hostile to Israel and its well-being.
By short-circuiting any hopes for direct negotiations, the Palestinians have undermined the admirable agenda of a UN organization that actually does good in the world. By going along with their quixotic quest, UNESCO’s membership has proven yet again that the global politics of delegitimization trumps ideals.
People around the world will suffer due to the shortsightedness of the Palestinians’ bid, and the agency’s vote. There is another way, and that is through direct engagement with the only real partner the Palestinians have for peace. That partner is Israel.