Monday, Oct. 31, the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to admit Palestine as a full member. According to unesco.org, 52 member states abstained from the vote, 14 voted against and 107 voted in favor.
“By admitting them to UNESCO, they indicated that they support Palestinian statehood,” John Craig, the ambassador-in-residence and director of the Elizabethtown College Center for Global Citizenship, said. However, “This is mostly a symbolic gesture. It doesn’t grant them statehood. It represents recognition of their aspiration to statehood, and the legitimacy of those aspirations.”
Dr. Craig Nation, who serves as an adjunct professor of history and political science at Etown in addition to his work as a professor of strategy at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., commented that this vote reflects frustration with the lack of progress in the Middle East peace process.
“There’s a pretty widespread sentiment, justified or not, that the so-called peace process is stalled,” Nation said. “It’s just not moving forward, and something needs to be done to break the stalemate.”
Additionally, according to nytimes.com, this ground-breaking vote prompted the U.S. to cut $60 million in funding to the global development organization, as required by federal legislation which stipulates that the U.S. cannot provide funding to any U.N. agency that supports Palestine. The U.S. was slated to make its next payment this November, financing 22 percent of the UNESCO budget.
“This will hurt UNESCO, but it won’t destroy it,” Nation observed. He described the U.S. reaction as “predictable,” in part because this is not the first time that the U.S. has faced conflicts with the agency; between 1984 and 2003, the U.S. boycotted UNESCO over various corruption charges.
Craig explained that this vote is indicative of the current attitude toward potential Palestinian statehood.
“The Palestinians have, in the past year, developed a much broader support in the international community than they had a year ago, primarily because of the Israeli government’s position on settlements,” Craig said. “In 2011, they have enough support to move forward. They were trying to use [the vote] as some leverage to get negotiations started again; it didn’t work.”
Nation and Craig both expressed skepticism as to whether or not the UNESCO recognition of Palestine will bring any true progress toward a peaceful concession.
Craig also observed that the U.S. has exerted less influence in the region.
Nation agreed with Craig. He explained that the U.S. is primarily viewed as acting on behalf of Israel, and this has affected U.S. credibility within the region. He commented, “It seems likely that the role of honest broker and bipartisan mediator needs to be played by someone else.”
According to Nation, as recently as 2010, President Obama “articulated that we support a negotiated two state solution. We’ll have a provisional Palestinian state, possibly territorial revisions and reliable security guarantees for Israel. But we have not been willing to support the movement to recognize Palestinian statehood inside the United Nations.”
Craig further explained that the implications of the vote go beyond the obvious. “In spite of appeals by the United States not to move forward, they made a decision to go forward,” he said. “That’s putting the U.S. in a very big problem because it will come up in the [U.N.] Security Council. We’ve already said we’re going to veto the request to make the state of Palestine a member, a provisional member, of the United Nations. That veto will force a vote in the [U.N.] General Assembly, and they’ll probably win now in the General Assembly.”
However, both Craig and Nation agreed that this vote is unlikely to change U.S. views on involvement in Israel.
“We have a moral commitment to support the legitimacy of Israel,” Nation said.