In a significant advance for the Palestinian cause, the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has voted by 107 to 14, with 52 abstentions and 21 absentees, to admit Palestine as a full member. Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa voted in favour, as did France. The United States, predictably, voted against, saying that the proposal was “regrettable” and would undermine a “just and lasting peace” in the region. Directly after the vote, the U.S. acted on a 1990s law requiring it to end payments to any U.N. body that admitted Palestine. Unesco will lose about $70 million a month, or some 22 per cent of its budget. Israel has stopped its 3 per cent contribution to the organisation, and is accelerating settlement construction in the illegally occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. It has also frozen customs and other revenues of about $100 million a month, which it collects for the Palestinian Authority, as the latter has no control over its own borders. In addition, since the Unesco vote, there have been several cyber attacks on Palestinian internet service providers, with net access cut off in many cases.
The whole issue shows how vindictive both Israel and the U.S. are towards the Palestinians. That some Israeli Ministers disapprove of the money freeze and that Washington has expressed disquiet about it reflects merely instrumentalist concern that the Palestinian Authority (PA) might now lack funds to enforce order in the West Bank. The freeze and the illegal building programme amount to collective punishment. Washington's Congress-imposed block on its payments to Unesco is another form of that, but one aimed at the whole world, despite the fact that firms like Google, Apple, and Microsoft use Unesco for access to developing markets. The lobbying body, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) ensured that all mention of national interest was excluded from the relevant law. Clearly, the Zionist lobby in the U.S. is so powerful that it can make Congress pass legislation that ties the President's hands in foreign affairs even if that harms U.S. interests. Yet, by a cruel irony, Unesco, the very body on to which Palestine has been voted, was, only a few years ago, involved in plans for a wider protection zone around the former Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in southern Poland. It is only to be hoped that the U.S. and its major ally Israel can learn something from that memento of evil, and that they will stop punishing the Palestinians for claiming their legitimate rights, in effect for being Palestinians.