by David Singer
Global programs in literacy, gender equality and clean water initiatives will be impacted as a result of America suspending its dues to UNESCO, totaling about $225 million dollars, until 2013 - according to United States National Commissioner to UNESCO - Emilya Cachapero.
Hundreds of millions of people in third world countries stand to suffer as these programs are curtailed or abandoned because of this black hole opening up in UNESCO's recurrent funding - resulting from the admission of Palestine to membership of UNESCO on 31 October.
Two American domestic laws passed in the early-mid-90s specify that if Palestine becomes a full member in any UN agency, the US would end funds to that agency.
This legislation was designed to ensure that no unilateral action was taken by the Palestinian Authority to declare statehood outside the negotiations prescribed by the Oslo Agreements and the Bush Roadmap.
The global fall out from this loss of American funding - 22% of UNESCO's annual budget - has been spelled out In a highly revealing article "Ripples from Palestine Membership Into UNESCO" - written by Ms.Cachapero - the Theatre Communication Groups Director of Artistic Programs/International Theatre Institute - US.
Ms Cachapero indicated the fallout was going to be far wider than just UNESCO's programs:
"However, the withdrawal of funds could also have huge repercussions throughout UN agencies and this is much bigger than just a UNESCO, UN or Palestine issue."
She points out that:
"The UN meeting calendar is determining which other agencies are approached by Palestine to petition for full membership. The next agency meeting where Palestine is expected to request membership is the World Patents Organization and other meetings on the calendar include the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, and later the Atomic Energy Commission."
Obviously if Palestine is admitted to membership of these organizations - then American funding will automatically cease.
"Today's victory at UNESCO is the beginning of a road that is difficult, but will lead to the freedom of our land and people from occupation. Palestine has the right to a place on the map."
The price the rest of the world is now being asked to pay for this diplomatic assault outside the negotiations agreed on by the Palestinian Authority with Israel seems to have had no place in Mr Maliki's thinking - nor those 107 states that voted for Palestine's admission knowing full well that it could lead to the loss of America's monetary commitment to UNESCO.
Like it or not - politics appears to have been an important factor in relation to Palestine's admission to UNESCO.
I first raised questions with UNESCO concerning the legality of Palestine's admission some two months ago.
I sought access to the reports of UNESCO's Executive Board recommending the admission of Palestine to UNESCO - which has been ignored. Six weeks ago I also prepared and submitted to UNESCO a submission on the majority vote I believed was required to admit Palestine. UNESCO continues to maintain a wall of silence - indicating it will not be commenting on my claims.
I have now instituted a petition seeking public support to demand UNESCO review the decision and if necessary seek an advisory opininion [sic] from the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
700 people from 19 countries have signed the petition in the 10 days it has been on line.
Is there any alternative to this course of action - which could help get American funding restored if the ICJ finds Palestine's admission was unlawful?
Ms Cachapero offers one alternative suggestion:
"We encourage you to send messages to Members of Congress urging them to amend the laws and allow US funds to flow again to all impacted UN agencies"
She acknowledges that such action is unlikely to have any effect by revealing that:
"US Ambassador to UNESCO David Killion informed the US Commissioners that he is working with other State Department officials to encourage US legislators to amend the laws, which are not likely to be repealed."
Given this is an election year in America - Mr Killion's opinion is probably correct.
UNESCO has attempted to replace the lost American funding by establishing an Emergency Fund in November - urging its remaining 194 members to make up the shortfall.
The Emergency Fund has yielded very little in voluntary contributions to date.
Certainly the 87 member states that did not vote for Palestine's admission, or abstained from voting or simply did not turn up for the vote would not be very sympathetic to such a plea stemming from a decision they did not support.
UNESCO is clearly in a bind.
If the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found UNESCO acted unlawfully, then Palestine's admission would be declared null and void but American funding would be restored. If the ICJ found UNESCO had acted legally, then the loss of American funding would be continued but Palestine's admission to UNESCO would be confirmed.
Given the "out" an ICJ opinion could possibly give UNESCO - it would be acting irresponsibly if it did not approach the ICJ.
I believe that UNESCO could have avoided the dilemma in which it now finds itself - had the Executive Board properly dealt with Palestine's application when it was first presented to the Executive Board.
The action of the Executive Board is to be contrasted with the Committee that dealt with Palestine's application to become a member of the United Nations - where that application failed to convince such Committee to forward it to the Security Council for a vote.
It would be very interesting to learn how Palestine's application could have been recommended by UNESCO'S Executive Board, but rejected by the UN vetting Committee - since only States can be recommended for membership to both organizations.
Palestine does not satisfy the criteria for statehood under customary international law as recognized in the Montevideo Convention.
Was this a fatal impediment to Palestine's application to join the UN - but thought to be of no consequence in regard to its application to join UNESCO?
The ICJ might well have something to say on this issue.
Irrespective of what occured at the Executive Board - the vote taken at the UNESCO General Conference has the smell of illegality about it - reinforced by UNESCO refusing to justify the constitutional provision which enabled Palestine to be admitted to membership on the affirmative vote of only 107 member states - rather than the 129 required by the Constitution.
In the end some declaratory ruling by the ICJ is necessary to possibly rescue UNESCO from the hole into which it is sinking further every day as its programs are impacted by the sudden withdrawal of American funding.
Ms Cachapero's description of the problems as "ripples" seems set to turn into " whirlpools" - unless UNESCO seeks advice from the ICJ instead of hoping the problem will simply disappear if it maintains its present course of inaction and continuing silence.
Should politics take precedence over legality? That is the question UNESCO needs to face - and answer - without delay.
Hundreds of millions of people losing out on the abandonment or curtailment of projects designed to improve their daily lives seem to make the choice a very easy one.(Ed. note: You can sign a petition demanding UNESCO turn to the ICJ and reconsider the decision that ran counter to its own charter at http://www.change.org/petitions/wwwunescoorg-review-palestines-admission-as-a-member-of-unesco )
David Singer is an Australian lawyer who is active in Zionist community organizations in that country.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.