Israel and the US have no moral justification to continue resisting Palestine’s bid for statehood. Israel’s concerns against the Palestine Liberation Organization as a terrorist organization are no more valid, especially after both had exchanged letters of recognition as far back as 1993.
If the bone of contention is land, there is nothing anybody can do about it. The struggle over land between Israelis and those in the Middle East (including the Palestinians) is an age-old problem that shouldn’t be put forward by anybody as a major stumbling block. Such a struggle for space has been ongoing since Biblical times and will continue ad infinitum; but it shouldn’t be used as any excuse to delay or frustrate any efforts at a negotiated settlement for the Israelis and Palestinians to co-exist.
It is in this light that the euphoric reaction of the Palestinian Foreign Minister, Riad al-Malki, must be understood. He was reported as praising the UNESCO’s decision, saying that “this vote will help erase a tiny part of the injustice done to the Palestinian people” and that “this membership will be the best step toward peace and stability.”
Although he insisted that the Palestinian request for membership in UNESCO was “linked in no way to our request to join the United Nations,” it has everything in it to instill optimism for that cause.
The backdrop to today’s vote reveals many aspects of the US’ insidious nature. The Obama administration, which values its membership in UNESCO, tried unsuccessfully to prevent the vote from taking place, while Irina Bokova, the American-supported Director-General of the organization, traveled to Washington to meet with Congressional leaders and ask them to alter the law.
The American ambassador to the UNESCO, David T. Killion, repeatedly called the vote “premature” and said the US would seek other means to support the agency, though he did not offer specifics. Shame unto the US for its high-level hypocrisy!
Both parties in Congress denounced the UNESCO action Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York, called it “counterproductive,” saying in a statement that “UNESCO is interfering with the prospects for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.” Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida Republican who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, characterized the UNESCO move as “anti-Israeli and anti-peace” and called for a quick cutoff of funds.
The US’ opposition to Palestine’s interests is hinged on many factors: that UN agencies should wait for a resolution of the Palestinians’ application for full membership in the United Nations as a whole; that Palestinian statehood should emerge from negotiations with Israel, not from acts by third parties or international groups. Its position is that UN membership will change little for Palestinians on the ground.
As is to be expected, many people have challenged the US’ arguments. On their part, for example, Arab diplomats hold the opinion that the American position is a bit disingenuous because Washington has manouevred to try to prevent the Palestinians from getting the necessary 9 votes in the 15-seat Security Council, and would use its veto there if they did.
A confirmation of this apprehension emerged on Monday when Bosnia (which currently has a seat on the Council) announced that it would abstain from voting, which definitely would deny the Palestinians the chance for nine “Yes” votes, making an American veto appear unnecessary. The good news, however, is that no country has a veto at the UNESCO.
The US can withdraw funding and rave all it can, but the UNESCO decision suggests something ominous for it—it won’t be allowed to continue bullying others to suit its needs. Its one-sided approach to handling the Palestinian problem, which favors its ally (Israel), won’t solve the problem. Anybody who knows how the US has positioned itself will agree that the US is rather a part of the problem.
The vitriolic reaction from some quarters in the US alone is enough to confirm that the US won’t support anything that will give Palestine statehood or the opportunity to assert its independence. But those who are genuinely interested in levelling the playing field know better how to brush aside the US’ biased moves. The UNESCO decision is a clear demonstration of that genuine interest.
Other sources of funding for the UNESCO have to be sought to counteract this stranglehold by the US. As is already obvious, some discussions have been initiated to have Arab countries contribute more to UNESCO to make up the budget shortfall. The UNESCO has to streamline its own by-laws on funding to ensure that it benefits from such concessions.
Some particular by-laws that require that extra funds contributed to the organization cannot be used for its operating budget must be reviewed. It is only then that contributions from other sources can be channelled to needy sectors to sustain the UNESCO’s operations.
The genuine fears expressed by Ms. Bokova should prompt quick action by potential donors to support the UNESCO. Her concerns that “the universality and financial stability” of UNESCO would be jeopardized call for genuine commitment from all UNESCO member-states to support the organization.
In this sense, then, the UNESCO should continue to function despite the US and Israeli retributive action against it. The message is already clear that the UNESCO’s decision is well-intentioned and must be supported by all peace-lovers. The posture of MIGHT being right must give way to one of common sense and fellow-feeling to validate and protect our humanity. Palestine too has a “humanity” to protect.
One immediate measure that Israel may take to register its protest at UNESCO’s decision and to undermine or threaten the Palestinian cause is to expand its settlement infrastructural programme. Afraid that Palestine may lay claim to territories, Israel will quickly build settlements and establish its hold on lands likely to be of interest to Palestine.
Such acts in desperation will provoke confrontations and further shed innocent blood all in the name of hegemony. Whether such Israeli manouevres will delay any action on Palestine’s clamour for statehood is yet to be seen; but the truth is that Palestine has gone too far in its quest to be deterred by such vain acts of intimidation.
By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor