Antony Blinken
Antony BlinkenReuters

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that Israel has no objections to a US return to the UN cultural agency UNESCO, AFP reported.

Questioned by lawmakers, Blinken called on Congress to give President Joe Biden the power to waive a US law that requires an end to US funding to any international organization, such as UNESCO, that recognizes Palestine as a state.

"We believe that having the waiver authority would be important and necessary and I can say with authority that our partners in Israel feel the same way. They would support our rejoining UNESCO," Blinken was quoted as having told the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The Secretary of State said that the United States has been harmed by its absence, pointing to UNESCO's role in education and the emerging field of artificial intelligence.

"When we're not at the table shaping that conversation and so actually helping to shape those norms and standards, well, someone else is. And that someone else is probably China," Blinken said.

Israel withdrew from UNESCO in 2019, after the US made a similar announcement, over the agency’s anti-Israel bias.

In late 2021 it was reported that the Biden Administration is pressuring Israel to renew its membership in UNESCO.

In February, journalist Barak Ravid reported that Israel has withdrawn its opposition to a US return to UNESCO.

Israel had a contentious relationship with UNESCO, which has approved several anti-Israel resolutions in recent years.

In 2018, the UN agency approved a resolution declaring that the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem are "an integral part of the Occupied Palestinian territory."

Previous resolutions referred to the Jewish state as "the occupying power" in Jerusalem. Another declared the Old City of Hebron as a “Palestinian World Heritage site”.

In 2016, UNESCO passed resolutions declaring that Israel has no rights to Jerusalem, and describing the Temple Mount and Old City of Jerusalem as Muslim holy sites.