Palestinians Decide against More UN Agency Memberships for Now

In an apparent turnaround, Foreign Minister Riyad Malki announced on Thursday that the Palestinians are not planning to seek membership in additional United Nations’ agencies, focusing instead on their full UN membership application. The comments, reported by the WAFA Palestinian news agency, come just days after they received full “Member State” status at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Currently the Palestinian UN full member application is in the UN Security Council, which is expected to discuss the bid further on November 11.

The United States and Israel both withdrew funding of UNESCO following the vote admitting “Palestine.” Those moves are presently expected to remove around $80 million from UNESCO—mostly from the US—which altogether represent more than 20 percent of the UN group’s total annual budget.

In addition, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced in a statement posted on their Foreign Affairs website that they would not provide additional funds to cover any UNESCO budget shortfall coming as a result of the Palestinian move. Baird also said that Canada has “decided that we are currently not considering any new funding proposals for UNESCO programs.” They are reviewing their response options with regard to the UN agency as well.

The US move was due to previous legislation requiring the cutoff of funding for UN agencies that grant full membership to the Palestinians. Israel and Canada made their decisions following the US announcement.

According to the WAFA report, Malki said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave the order not to pursue additional ancillary UN membership bids for now. He instead wants the focus on the more significant UN Security Council application.

“Our official position is to only focus at the time being on our bid to win full membership in the UN,” WAFA quoted Malki as saying. “All other memberships will come automatically after that.” He claimed the UNESCO bid was 22-years in the making and not attached to the full UN application.

The decision comes following an earlier WAFA report in which Minister of Health Fathi Abu Moghli said they were preparing to apply to join the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO).

The significance of UN agency membership applications is debatable, but the UNESCO acceptance was seen as a possible precedent-setting move for other UN agencies and international bodies, including the International Criminal Court (ICC). The US opposed the UNESCO move because they felt it raised tensions while they are trying to convince the Israelis and Palestinians to return to peace negotiations.

They also saw it as premature and a “backdoor” attempt towards statehood recognition prior to a decision by the Security Council. The US has promised to veto the Security Council bid if that becomes necessary, as they are concerned about such a step coming outside of a peace deal.

On Thursday the Israeli Prime Minister’s Media Adviser announced that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered their $2 million annual contribution to UNESCO be frozen over the Palestinian membership admission. However, the statement said Netanyahu directed that the funds should be sent to “cooperative initiatives towards the same goals in the region.”

Said Netanyahu in the statement regarding the UNESCO Palestinian move, “Such steps will not advance peace; they will only push it further away. The only way to reach peace is through direct negotiations without preconditions.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, November 3, 2011)