After Embracing PLO, UNESCO Lobbies to Circumvent U.S Penalty

January 13, 2012
UNESCO officials are braced for “months” of back-and-forth with the United States as they seek restoration of U.S. funding following mandated cuts in response to the Paris-based agency’s embrace of “Palestine” as a member, diplomatic sources report.

One confirmed that the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has been seeking ways to effect a waiver of the law that mandates immediate cessation of Washington’s contributions to any UN agency that allows Palestinian membership. But this official added that the one key person holding out is Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Indeed, the Florida Republican launched a call this week for the United States to “strengthen and preserve” the funding prohibition law. In a press release, she says that the Obama administration has “failed” in what she describes as efforts to “gut” the law and restore Washington’s UNESCO contributions.

She also warns that granting a waiver to the law would encourage more UN agencies to embrace the Palestine entity.

The funding prohibition law makes no provision for a presidential waiver in the absence of Congressional consent, which Ros-Lehtinen – speaking in the wake of renewed Palestinian pledges to advance the Palestinian statehood cause at the UN – restates that she strongly opposes.

“As the Palestinian leadership continues their destructive statehood scheme at the UN, the U.S. must act decisively to stop this ruse,” Ros-Lehtinen says in her statement released Monday.

“Other than our Security Council veto, the only roadblock in Ramallah’s way is that by law, the U.S. must cut off funding to any UN body that grants membership to ‘Palestine.’”

Ros-Lehtinen says the law has deterred other agencies from opening their arms to the Palestinians, and that any dilution of it would have the opposite effect.

“The Administration wants Congress to gut U.S. law and let the Administration fund UN bodies that support the Palestinian statehood scheme,” Ros-Lehtinen’s statement says.

“But the Administration’s diplomatic efforts have failed to seriously impede the scheme; in contrast, leveraging our funding to the UN has succeeded, as others see that we mean business and that they can’t take reckless, anti-Israel actions with impunity.”

The statute emerged in the wake of successful efforts by President H.W. Bush to prevent the Palestine Liberation Organization – which preceded the Palestinian Authority – from joining agencies such as the World Health Organization and UNESCO.

“If we abandon this strategy now, we would telegraph an ‘all clear’ for UN bodies to grant de facto recognition of a Palestinian state,” Ros-Lehtinen warns.

The Congresswoman calls for the United States to respond with funding cuts to any UN gesture that enhances Palestinian status within the world body.

“We must further strengthen U.S. law to cut off funding to any UN body that not only grants membership to ‘Palestine,’ but even grants some other upgraded status to Ramallah,” she urges.

“That is how to stop this dangerous Palestinian scheme in its tracks. Any maneuvers to undercut current law will serve to pave the way forward for the Palestinians.”

Irina Bokova, UNESCO director general, lobbied for a restoration of U.S. funding during a three-day visit to Washington last month, making the case that programs in Iraq and Afghanistan would be affected.

The United States provides all UN agencies with 22 percent of their respective budgets. UNESCO was also no exception to being granted extra-budgetary funding for specific programs.

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