Fresh blow for be­lea­guered her­itage agency Unesco as US with­draws

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - NASER AL WASMI

The United States an­nounced its de­ci­sion to with­draw from Unesco yes­ter­day, and Is­rael will follow its de­par­ture from the United Na­tions cul­tural and ed­u­ca­tional agency, cit­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of bias against the Jewish state.

The de­ci­sion dealt an­other blow to an or­gan­i­sa­tion that is be­set by re­gional ri­val­ries, ac­cu­sa­tions of in­ef­fi­ciency and a lack of funds and came as Unesco is due to choose a new chief this week in a bid to re­vive its for­tunes.

After three days of se­cret bal­lot­ing that could run un­til to­day, Qatar’s Ha­mad bin Ab­du­laziz Al Kawari and France’s Au­drey Azoulay are tied to win the most se­nior post at the or­gan­i­sa­tion, with Egyp­tian hope­ful Moushira Khat­tab in third place.

Two other can­di­dates are trail­ing.

The US de­ci­sion to with­draw from the United Na­tions agency was based on “the need for fun­da­men­tal re­form in the or­gan­i­sa­tion, and con­tin­u­ing anti-Is­rael bias at Unesco”, the state depart­ment said.

How­ever, the US ex­pressed its de­sire to re­main en­gaged as a per­ma­nent ob­server mis­sion to the UN agency in or­der to con­trib­ute Amer­i­can opin­ions.

The head of Unesco, Irina Bokova, said she wished “to ex­press pro­found re­gret” over the de­ci­sion by the US to de­part.

The with­drawal will take ef­fect on De­cem­ber 31, 2018. The US will re­main a full mem­ber of Unesco un­til that time.

Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu “wel­comes the de­ci­sion by pres­i­dent (Don­ald) Trump to with­draw from Unesco. This is a coura­geous and moral de­ci­sion be­cause Unesco has be­come the theatre of the ab­surd and be­cause in­stead of pre­serv­ing his­tory it dis­torts it,” said the Is­raeli prime min­is­ter’s of­fice yes­ter­day.

Is­rael has long been at log­ger­heads with Unesco, par­tic­u­larly over its de­ci­sion to ad­mit the Pales­tini­ans as mem­bers in 2011.

In July, the UN body de­clared the Old City of He­bron in the oc­cu­pied West Bank an en­dan­gered World Her­itage site, de­light­ing Pales­tini­ans and in­fu­ri­at­ing Is­rael.

Mr Ne­tanyahu an­nounced a US $1mil­lion cut in fund­ing to the UN, say­ing the Unesco vote ig­nored Jewish ties to the site.

It fol­lowed a Unesco res­o­lu­tion on Jerusalem in May that

strongly crit­i­cised the Jewish state’s oc­cu­pa­tion of the east­ern part of the city.

For­eign Pol­icy magazine said Wash­ing­ton would for­mally with­draw after the 58-mem­ber Unesco ex­ec­u­tive board se­lects its new di­rec­tor-gen­eral.

The US con­trib­uted about US$80 mil­lion (Dh293.8m) a year to Unesco, ac­count­ing for about a fifth of its bud­get, but can­celled its con­tri­bu­tion in 2011 in protest at the Pales­tini­ans be­ing granted full mem­ber­ship.

US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has been crit­i­cal of the UN, com­plain­ing about how much it costs and ques­tion­ing whether UN-af­fil­i­ated in­sti­tu­tions give value for money.

For­mer US as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state Philip Crow­ley called the de­ci­sion “yet an­other step back by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion from Amer­ica’s lead­er­ship role”.

Daniel Ser­wer, an­other for­mer state depart­ment of­fi­cial, who is now at the Mid­dle East In­sti­tute said: “Unesco will sur­vive. The US will sur­vive, but Amer­i­can in­flu­ence will de­cline, which seems to be the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s main ob­jec­tive this week.”

Richard Gowen, of the Euro­pean Coun­cil on for­eign re­la­tions, called the de­ci­sion “ges­ture pol­i­tics” that al­lows Mr Trump to “look tough on the UN, but it could back­fire by al­low­ing China and other pow­ers to claim that the US is walk­ing away from lead­er­ship”.

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