The Post reports: “UNESCO voted Monday to admit Palestine into the organization as its newest member, and the United States promptly responded by cutting off funding for the agency. Acting under a legal requirement to cut U.S. funds to any U.N. agency that recognizes a Palestinian state, the State Department on Monday announced that the United States has stopped funding the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization because of the vote. Department spokesman Victoria Nuland told reporters that the Obama administration would not make a planned $60 million payment to the agency due this month.”
Reaction from U.S. politicians was swift. In a written statement Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called UNESCO’s move “anti-Israel and anti-peace.” She warned: “This is only the beginning. The Palestinians will now seek full membership in other U.N. bodies. Existing U.S. law mandates that we cut off funding to any U.N. body that approves such a request. The Administration must stop trying to find ways not to fully implement this law, and instead cut off funding to UNESCO immediately. And Congress must pass pending U.N. reform legislation to cut off funding to any U.N. entity that grants any upgraded status to ‘Palestine.’ ”
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga), chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, likewise declared: “The United States has shown our disapproval of this action by cutting off funding for UNESCO. We must continue to show strength as the Palestinian leadership attempts to undermine negotiations and circumvent the peace process. Israel remains a crucially important ally to the United States. The only means to establishing peace is through good-faith negotiations. The United States is ready and willing to work with those who seek peace and must show interested parties that we will not stand for such reckless avoidance of the path to peace.”
What was obscured in all this was the utter collapse of U.S. diplomacy. Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton told me, “UNESCO, true to form, has voted today to admit the Palestinian Authority as a member. So ineffective was Obama Administration diplomacy, that France voted in favor of Palestinian membership, and Britain and Japan abstained.”
He explained, “U.S. statutes, dating from 1990, now require a full cutoff of U.S. funding, which Congress should insist occur immediately. Should the Administration seek changes in the applicable statutory provisions would eliminate or weaken the funding cutoff, Congress should reject them.” Bolton added: “UNESCO has made its decision: it prefers Palestinian membership to American participation. Now let the rest of the U.N. specialized agencies make their choice.”
Maybe the U.S. administration will have learned something from all this. Our participation in various U.N. bodies, including the infamous U.N. Human Rights Commission, has not moderated their behavior nor extended U.S. influence. When we are now forced to withdraw from UNESCO and perhaps other bodies, the administration in effect admits that its engagement policy, which sought to cajole despotic regimes either individually or collectively, has been an abject failure.
As this administration stumbles toward the end of its term, the light may go on that a more effective U.S. policy is one that draws clear lines, making allies and foes aware of the consequences of their actions. Too bad it has taken the Obama administration nearly three years to master this basic concept.