Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens-Nassau) is promising to fight President Barack Obama’s request to seek a Congressional waiver to restore funding to the United Nations Educational, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which lost its $70 million American contribution after it recognized a Palestinian state in October.
“I like UNESCO, I support UNESCO,” said Ackerman, the senior Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. “But I also believe that actions have consequences. We told the Palestinians that we were unalterably opposed to their effort to acquire the trappings of statehood at the U.N. instead of negotiating with Israel to achieve an actual state. We told the other members of UNESCO that U.S. law would compel us to withhold our funding if they voted to make Palestine a member of UNESCO without actually being a state. Now both we and they have to live with the consequences.”
UNESCO automatically lost its funding when it voted 107 to 14 with 52 abstentions last October to admit “Palestine” as its 195th member. On Sept. 23, the Palestinian Authority applied to the U.N. for unilateral recognition of statehood. Its request to the Security Council failed to garner sufficient support. But after the UNESCO vote, a Palestinian envoy was quoted as saying he hoped the move would “open the door” for admission to 16 other U.N. agencies.
The U.S. was not alone in cutting off support to UNESCO. Canada, which reportedly contributes $10 million annually, and Israel said they would both withhold their financial support. The U.S. contribution of $70 million is said to represent 22 percent of the UNESCO budget.
“The real problem is that the Palestinians ignored our warnings and chose to short-circuit the negotiating process with Israel, and that so many nations, by their votes, encouraged them to do so,” Ackerman said in a statement. “Until the Palestinians become a state by virtue of an agreement with Israel, or until they recognize the harm their membership has done to UNESCO, and the very laudable work it does, I will continue to insist that not one penny of our taxpayers money go to UNESCO. Actions have consequences.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said she too would oppose the administration’s waiver request.
Ackerman suggested that UNESCO look elsewhere for its funding, saying: “Maybe all the nations that chose to follow the Palestinians over the cliff will come up with the money to replace our contribution. I tend to doubt it, but I would love to be surprised.”