October 21, 2011 – The Palestinian Authority received a two-thirds majority vote to become the 195th member of UNESCO with status as "an observer entity." Earlier, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton called UNESCO's deliberation "inexplicable" and asked, "What is the boundary of this state that is being considered by UNESCO? What authorities does it have? What jurisdiction will it be endowed with? Who knows? Nobody knows because those are the hard issues that can only be resolved by negotiation.”
The United States is bound by law, instituted during the Clinton Administration, to cut off funds to any U.N. entity that upgrades the Palestinian status outside of the scope of direct negotiations. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that U.S. payments – constituting 22% of UNESCO's annual budget – will now cease.
Though UNESCO's mission is non-political, the U.S. withdrew from the organization in 1984 citing anti-American and anti-Israeli bias, and only returned to the body in 2003. Since then, there have been a number of rulings continuing bias, including recognizing both the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Tomb of Rachel as "an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories." Prime Minister Netanyahu stated, "If the places where the fathers and mothers of the Jewish nation are buried, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Leah and Rachel some 4,000 years ago are not part of the Jewish heritage, then what is?"
Unilateral Statehood Bid
In November, the permanent representatives of the Security Council will meet to discuss the Palestinian application for membership.
It is expected that the PA will formally request a vote in the Security Council. At this juncture, it is believed that the PA has at least seven of the nine votes necessary for acceptance – with China, India, Lebanon, Russia, South Africa, Brazil and now reportedly Gabon, succumbing to strong pressure over the past months. Of the eight countries left in the Security Council, Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina are understood to be the two countries in play; the pressure, led by Russia, keeps building. If they gain the necessary votes, the U.S. has pledged to veto.
Passage in the General Assembly is guaranteed.
If a veto happens, the PA would likely go to the General Assembly for recognition of Palestinian statehood. Passage there is guaranteed, given the dominance of the pro-Arab and non-aligned blocks, and there is no veto in the General Assembly. Though legally non-binding, such a symbolic gesture could enable the new state to join other specialized agencies and gain status at the International Criminal Court.
If the bid for recognition fails, the PA might focus on a January date when five of the non-permanent members will be replaced. At that time, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Gabon, Nigeria, Brazil and Lebanon will be replaced by Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo. This could provide a more favorable environment for recognition with Guatemala the most likely to vote against statehood.
What is the PA's Goal?
UNESCO's acceptance of Palestine as a full member is the result of a strategic decision by the PA to supplant direct, bi-lateral negotiations between Israel and the PA, with the internationalization of the conflict via submitting for full membership to individual UN agencies. If successful, this would contribute to the efforts to delegitimize and isolate Israel. Following this strategy, the PA will likely seek recognition in other UN bodies including the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization.
In addition to working to erase any non-Islamic historical ties to Israel through UNESCO, the PA will seek recognition at the International Criminal Court where the Palestinians will be able to engage in “lawfare” against Israel. This includes suing for ownership of Israeli land they claim as theirs and prosecuting Israelis for war crimes. They will expand their efforts to erase any internationally-recognized connection to the land of Israel and, in effect, replace it with a new Palestinian historical narrative.
Destroying Israel’s historical ties will not lead to peace.
Destroying the substantial historical ties to Israel, while legitimizing the Palestinian claims, will not lead to peace. As Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor remarked to the Security Council, "Those who seek peace do not negate the narrative of the other side. On the contrary, they recognize its existence and choose to sit down and negotiate peace in good faith. This is what President Sadat did. This is what King Hussein did. The ancient Jewish bond to the land of Israel is unbreakable. This is our homeland."
He addressed the fact that, contrary to conventional wisdom, settlements are not the core cause of the conflict, as the conflict pre-dates this issue by almost 50 years. "This is just a pretext for the Palestinians to avoid negotiations. The primary obstacle to peace is the Arab world's refusal to acknowledge the Jewish people's ancient connection to the Land of Israel and the Palestinian's insistence on the so-called right of return... It's a proposition that no one who believes in the right of Israel to exist could accept because... the so-called right of return equals the destruction of the State of Israel."
Palestinian Claims Include Christian Sites
"It is the right of the Palestinians to become members of UNESCO. Palestine has its own heritage and its own culture that needs to be protected," said Palestinian official Omar Awadallah. According to the Financial Times, Palestinian officials say they will call on UNESCO to recognize key monuments in the territories as world heritage sites, beginning with the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, one of the holiest places in Christianity which is where Jesus is believed to have been born.
In 2002, Palestinians occupied the Church of the Nativity, holding priests and nuns hostage.
The irony is that it was in 2002 that Palestinians occupied the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, desecrating the Church and taking more than 40 Christian clergy and nuns hostage during a 39 day siege. Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican's Undersecretary of State said at the time, "The Palestinians have entered into bilateral agreements [with the Pope] in which they undertake to maintain and respect the status quo regarding the Christian holy places and the rights of Christian communities. To explain the gravity of the current situation, let me begin with the fact that the occupation of the holy places by armed men is a violation of a long tradition of law that dates back to the Ottoman era. Never before have they been occupied – for such a lengthy time – by armed men."
In the past, there was an issue with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher concerning illegal construction by the PA appointed Waqf authorities that endangered the integrity of the church. It took both Israeli and world pressure to end the illegal construction. A Christian leader, Father Marun Lahham said, "Frequent Muslim declarations that... Jerusalem is [an] Islamic [city] trouble Christians." Thus, the Palestinian strategy to sever historical connections to holy sites is both a Jewish and Christian issue.
What should we do?
Start by thanking the 14 countries that voted against acceptance of the Palestinian Authority as a full member of UNESCO. In addition to the United States, the countries that voted against this resolution are Austrailia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Palau, Panama, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Sweden, and Vanuatu. Click here for contact information for each UNESCO state.
The following are talking points to give context when writing blogs, letters to newspapers and websites, and in water cooler conversation.
• UNESCO's General Assembly vote to recognize Palestine as a full member is a violation of its own constitution and a grave misuse of UNESCO's mandate.
• It is not up to UNESCO to decide who is a state and who is not. It is their job to promote culture, science and education. Unfortunately, UNESCO is more interested in the former at the expense of the latter.
• A vote to prematurely induct Palestine as a member state, especially when it resulted in losing 22% of UNESCO's funding and is outside the agency's mandate, shows how politicized the agency has become.
• The recognition of "Palestine" as a member of UNESCO comes on the heels of other scandalous pronouncements, including UNESCO's attempt to deny Jewish history in the Holy Land.
• Throughout history, the tomb of the biblical matriarch Rachel was recognized for what it is, a Jewish holy site. The site was never used as a mosque. Muslim travelers have referred to it as "Kubat Rachel," Rachel's Tomb in Arabic. Even under centuries of Ottoman Muslim rule, the place was recognized as a Jewish holy site. Now, UNESCO apparatchiks have decided otherwise and are even encouraging Israel to delist Rachel's Tomb as a Jewish heritage site and to recognize it as a mosque.
• When unenlightened diplomats in Paris rewrite 4,000 years of Jewish history for the sake of pro-Palestinian propaganda, it becomes difficult to believe in their commitment to basic truths and to mutual Arab-Israeli recognition.
• Can anyone imagine UNESCO so grossly misusing its authority on any other cultural or religious matter? Perhaps UNESCO should recognize the kaaba in Mecca, the site of Muslim pilgrimage, as a synagogue – because Muslims believe it was built by Abraham, who is also a Jewish patriarch. As silly as this sounds, it is precisely what UNESCO has done with Rachel's Tomb, but in reverse.
• UNESCO also aims to undermine the Jewish heritage associated with the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where, according to 4,000-year-old tradition, the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and matriarch Sarah, Rivka, and Leah, are buried.
It is our hope that UNESCO restores its credibility by focusing on its mandate and allowing the parties to focus on resolving their conflicts through direct negotiations, rather than through counterproductive manipulation of international forums.