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US, Israel reject 2021 UN budget

General view of the 74th session of UN General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York, United States on September 24, 2019. [Erçin Top - Anadolu Agency]
General view of the 74th session of UN General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York, United States on September 24, 2019 [Erçin Top / Anadolu Agency]

The UN General Assembly approved a $3.2 billion annual budget by a vote of 167-2 with Israel and the US voting "no" in protest over alleged anti-Semitism. Negotiations are said to have gone down to the wire but in the end the approved 2021 budget was higher than what Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had proposed.

The operating budget of the UN is usually agreed by consensus before Christmas but this year contentious negotiations continued into New Year's Eve when the budget was approved despite strong opposition from Israel and the US.

Funding to commemorate a 2001 UN declaration to combat racism and racial discrimination was the main sticking point. Tel Aviv and Washington view the two-decade-old declaration approved in Durban, South Africa, as another illustration of anti-Semitism within the UN.

The declaration adopted "measures of prevention, education and protection aimed at the eradication of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance at the national, regional and international levels."

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It also agreed on a set of programmes urging countries to "introduce and, as applicable, to reinforce anti-discrimination and anti-racism components in human rights programmes in school curricula, to develop and improve relevant educational material, including history and other textbooks, and to ensure that all teachers are effectively trained and adequately motivated to shape attitudes and behavioural patterns, based on the principles of non-discrimination, mutual respect and tolerance."

The declaration also made specific references to Israel and Palestine. "We recognize the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent State and we recognize the right to security for all States in the region, including Israel, and call upon all States to support the peace process and bring it to an early conclusion," the declaration said.

Regarding the five million Palestinian refugees, the declaration said: "We recognize the right of refugees to return voluntarily to their homes and properties in dignity and safety, and urge all States to facilitate such return."

A 2009 conference organised by the UN to review the Durban declaration was slammed by Israel and a number of western countries. They accused the UN of singling out Israel. The world body accused the Zionist state of committing racism and apartheid. The US and Israel walked out during the meeting over a draft resolution which they claimed singled out Israel for criticism and likened Zionism to racism. That language was dropped in the final documents.

After the approval of last week's budget, the US condemned the decision to commemorate the Durban declaration's 20 year anniversary. Ambassador Kelly Craft accused the world body of extending "a shameful legacy of hate, anti-Semitism, and anti-Israel bias" by supporting an official event during the next General Assembly session, which starts in September, commemorating the Durban outcome.

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