The State Department has asked Congress for nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to fund UNESCO – the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization – even though this is currently against the law.
The law states that the U.S. may not pay dues to any UN organization that grants the PLO full membership as a state – unless such a state has resulted from an Israel-PA negotiated settlement. Since 2011, when UNESCO voted to admit the "State of Palestine" as a member despite the fact that the above condition was not met, the U.S. has in fact not paid dues, in keeping with the law.
However, not only is the State Department now asking for $160 million to cover past dues and $76 million for current dues, it is also asking for a new law enabling the president to waive the law specifically for UNESCO.
Elliott Abrams, Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy and former Assistant Secretary of State, strongly objects. "The old adage 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' would seem to apply here." He explains that the current legislation was for the purpose of deterring "UN organizations from giving the Palestinians the diplomatic victory they wanted - being treated as a state - unless and until they negotiated a peace agreement with Israel. And it worked: since the U.S. move in 2011, other key UN organizations have not followed UNESCO down the PLO's preferred path. The U.S. pays about 22% of the budget of UNESCO and most other UN organs, so the threat of a loss of U.S. dues gets serious attention."
Abrams writes that if the law was to be "repealed or waived, it's logical to expect other UN bodies to see that the Americans are bluffing - and to give the Palestinians full membership. Yet that is clearly where the Obama administration is heading, unless Congress blocks them."
Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) are also against the move. "The [proposal] would undermine over two decades of U.S. policy against funding UN organizations that admit the PLO or other non-state actors as members," they recently wrote to Senate and House leaders.
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has also come out against the move. In a statement, it strongly criticized President Obama for seeking to restore funding to UNESCO, as well as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for supporting the idea. "We hope this is not due to effective White House pressure on Obama's friend and former colleague, [his] former Special Assistant and now newly-hired ADL national director Jonathan Greenblatt," the ZOA warned.
"UNESCO has a long history of anti-Israel and anti-American activity, even by the depraved standards of the United Nations," the ZOA notes. It reminds that the U.S. withdrew from UNESCO from 1984-2003, "only rejoining when UNESCO accepted the need to make certain reforms. In fact, it has changed little and UNESCO continues to harm American interests."
"U.S. refunding of UNESCO would send the message that, even when the U.S. acts on its law and principles to penalize international actors for their anti-peace actions, we don't really mean it," says the ZOA.
The Obama administration has responded that it will combine its UNESCO waiver with a condition that the waiver would lapse if another UN body jumps on the bandwagon and grants the PLO full membership.
"This is senseless," writes Abrams. "If we collapse on UNESCO, it will be assumed in the UN that we will eventually collapse on any other UN agency that admits 'Palestine.' … UNESCO's member countries decided to [test] American resolve. The Obama administration wants to show that they were right: we fold under criticism and pressure."
"Congress should 'just say no,'" concludes Abrams, "and send a clear message to every other UN body: there will be no waivers."