The US last week privately notified the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that it has decided to rejoin the agency nearly six years after the Trump administration announced it was withdrawing US membership, a State Department spokesperson told Axios’ Barak Ravid on Sunday.
In late 2021 it was reported that the Biden administration is pressuring Israel to renew its membership in UNESCO. Last year, Ravid reported that Israel has withdrawn its opposition to a US return to UNESCO.
Two months later, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Israel has no objections to a US return to the UN cultural agency.
Ravid noted that rejoining UNESCO is one of the Biden administration's foreign policy goals — mainly in an effort to counter what it sees as the growing influence of the Chinese government on the UN agency's agenda.
Last December, Congress approved a bill that allocated more than $500 million needed to pay the US debt to UNESCO and allows it to return as a full member.
The legislation includes a snap-back clause that states that if the Palestinian Arabs obtain a member-state status in a UN agency, the US will stop its funding again.
The bill will sunset on Sept. 30, 2025, when the current director general of UNESCO leaves office but could be extended further by Congress.
According to Ravid’s report on Sunday, Richard Verma, the deputy secretary of state for management and resources, delivered a letter to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay on June 8, proposing a plan for the US to rejoin the organization.
The plan, which is a result of long negotiations between the State Department and UNESCO, lays out a timetable for paying the US debt and for being readmitted to the agency’s executive board, a source briefed on the plan said.
The office of UNESCO’s director general last Friday called the ambassadors of all member states to an extraordinary meeting scheduled for Monday, during which Azoulay “will provide urgent strategic information," according to an email obtained by Axios.
A source briefed on the issue said Azoulay called the meeting to brief member states on the US plan to rejoin UNESCO and to ask for their agreement to hold a special general conference meeting in July to welcome the U.S. decision and approve the rejoining plan.
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.