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Administration Reacts Swiftly To UNESCO Vote On Palestinian Membership


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“All of these organizations need to assess whether their funding from the United States is more important than their support for the bureaucratic creation of a Palestinian state.”

For its part, the Obama administration had immediate concerns: Drawing back from UNESCO could have repercussions with an affiliated body, the World Intellectual Property Organization. Officials from the State Department and the Patent Office briefed “representatives from leading industries” on Monday on the possible repercussions on protecting overseas copyrights.

“The United States is a leading global voice on issues related to patent, copyright, and trademark matters, and should the U.S. be unable to provide its contributions to WIPO, the impact of that voice could be significantly diminished,” a State Department statement said.

Politico reported that representatives of Apple, Google, Microsoft, the Motion Picture Association of America, PhRMA and the Recording Industry Association of America attended – a signal the Obama administration was ready to bring in big guns to lobby Congress on the issue.

The statement from Nuland emphasized that the administration was exploring its options.

“The United States will maintain its membership in and commitment to UNESCO, and we will consult with Congress to ensure that U.S. interests and influence are preserved,” Nuland said.

Liberal groups like J Street and Americans for Peace Now urged Congress to reconsider the laws that prompted the funding cutoff.

“Existing legislation regarding the UN and the Palestinians must be amended to include sufficient flexibility to protect U.S. national security interests,” Americans for Peace Now said in a statement.

Leading House Republicans seem focused on further ratcheting up the pressure to derail the Palestinian UN campaign. In response to the UNESCO vote, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, quickly announced a briefing for later this week on “How to drop the Palestinian statehood scheme at the U.N.: UNESCO and beyond.”

Ros-Lehtinen has introduced a bill that would reinforce existing laws banning funding to international bodies that grant full membership to the Palestinians.

Israel praised the United States for its swift action. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the U.S. defunding announcement was further evidence of a “strong and solid” alliance with Israel.

Yet Israel did not commit to withdraw its own funding of UNESCO, amounting to about 3 percent of the agency’s budget, or to pull out of the organization. An Israeli official said the government is considering its options.

UNESCO is one of the few multilateral bodies where Israel’s concerns have received a sympathetic hearing; UNESCO runs Holocaust education programs in countries that have otherwise been hostile to such learning.

While Israel has sometimes clashed with UNESCO – such as in 2010, when UNESCO declared that Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem and Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs are “an integral part of the occupied Palestinian Territories” – the agency also has taken actions that are seen as friendly. In 2003, UNESCO designated Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus blocks – the “White City” – as a world heritage site, which facilitates international fundraising for historic preservation.

The Israeli official said the government was weighing such successes with the agency against the damage he said the Palestinian membership vote did to the peace process.

“I don’t see how it’s conducive to the goal of achieving reconciliation,” said the official.

Noting the recent resumption of rocket fire from Gaza on southern Israel, the official said, “While they were accepting the Palestiniansto UNESCO, Israelis were in their shelters. So who is the actor you accepted to UNESCO?”

(JTA)

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