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US to withdraw from UNESCO

A UNESCO meeting room at it's headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland
A UNESCO meeting room at it's headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland

The US is reported to be on the verge of withdrawing from UNESCO, after accusing the institution of anti-Israel bias, Foreign Policy reported today.

The withdrawal, which could be announced as early as next week, comes after many months of the US condemning numerous rulings by the UN body which have favoured Palestinian claims to sites in the Israeli-occupied territories. US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley made the Trump administration’s position clear in July following UNESCO’s ruling that the Ibrahimi Mosque in the Old City of Hebron is a Palestinian World Heritage Site threatened by Israel. “The decision,” Haley claimed, “is an affront to history and further discredits an already highly questionable UN agency.”

A plan to withdraw from the international body was reportedly made several weeks ago, with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson informing French President Emmanuel Macron of America’s imminent departure. Such a move is also a cost-saving measure, as the US looks to pay off the country’s $500 million debt to the UN.

If it does withdraw from UNESCO, the US would remain as an observer state in meetings. It would not, however, be able to participate in any future decision-making.

Read: Arab countries cancel UNESCO draft resolution against Israel

Last year, UNESCO voted in favour of a resolution that denied any connection between Al-Aqsa Mosque and Judaism; Israel relies on such a claim in recognising the Muslim holy site as the “Temple Mount”. In May, UNESCO ruled that Israel is an “occupying power” and condemned illegal Israeli activity in occupied East Jerusalem a month later. The Israelis were angered once again in July following the designation of the Ibrahimi Mosque, a site which is stormed regularly by illegal Israeli settlers. In response, Israel and the US have cut funding to UNESCO on multiple occasions, accusing it of “anti-Semitism”.

The Trump administration is not the first US government to take action against the UN body. In 2011, the then President Barak Obama cut more than $80 million of funding — a fifth of UNESCO’s total budget — in response to the organisation admitting the “State of Palestine” as a member.

Read: US, Israel threaten to cut UN funding once again

Update on 12 October 2017 

The US State Department has confirmed this afternoon that it will be withdrawing from UNESCO as of December and would establish an observer mission at the Paris-based organisation to replace its representation.

“This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO,” the department said.

UNESCO head Irina Bokova responded to the news saying that the withdrawal was a matter of “profound regret”.

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