At first glance, the decision last week by the Trump administration, followed immediately by Israel, to quit the United Nation’s cultural agency seems strange. Why penalise a body that promotes clean water, literacy, heritage preservation and women’s rights?
Washington’s claim that the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) is biased against Israel obscures the real crimes the agency has committed in US eyes.
The first is that in 2011 Unesco became the first UN agency to accept Palestine as a member. That set the Palestinians on the path to upgrading their status at the General Assembly a year later.
It should be recalled that in 1993, as Israel and the Palestinians signed the Oslo accords on the White House lawn, the watching world assumed the aim was to create a Palestinian state.
But it seems most US politicians never received that memo. Under pressure from Israel’s powerful lobbyists, the US Congress hurriedly passed legislation to pre-empt the peace process. One such law compels the United States to cancel funding to any UN body that admits the Palestinians.
Six years on, the US is $550 million in arrears and without voting rights at Unesco. Its departure is little more than a formality.
The agency’s second crime relates to its role selecting world heritage sites. That power has proved more than an irritant to Israel and the US.
The occupied territories, supposedly the locus of a future Palestinian state, are packed with…