US and Israel Formally Quit UNESCO

US & Canada News

The United States of America (USA) and Israel have officially quit the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day (1st January 2019), the culmination of a process triggered more than a year ago.


Even though the withdrawal is mainly procedural yet serves a serious setback to UNESCO which was co-founded by the US and United Nation (UN) after World War II to foster peace among member nations.

It can be recalled that the Trump administration filed its notice to withdraw from UNESCO sometime in October 2017 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed suit, accusing the UN agency of anti-Israel policies.

UNESCO with its headquarters in Paris of France has previously criticized Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem and granted full membership to Palestine in 2011. This development will not greatly affect UNESCO financially since it has been dealing with a funding slash ever since 2011 when both Israel and the US stopped paying dues after Palestine was voted in as a member state.

Since then officials estimate that the US - which accounted for around 22 percent of the total budget - has accrued $600m in unpaid dues. Israel also owes an estimated $10m which was one of the reasons for President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw. UNESCO officials affirmed that some of the reasons the US cited for the withdrawal do not apply anymore, noting that since then, all 12 texts on the Middle East passed at UNESCO have been consensual among Israel and Arab member states.

However, there was no official statement from the State Department on the issue because of the US-Government shutdown. Earlier, the Department told UNESCO officials that the US intends to stay engaged at UNESCO as a non-member "Observer Status" The US could potentially seek that status during the UNESCO Executive Board meetings in April.

Borrowing from the memory lane, the US pulled out of UNESCO during the Reagan administration in 1984 because it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt, and used to advance Soviet Union interests. The US rejoined again in 2003. UNESCO is best known for its work to preserve heritage, including maintaining a list of World Heritage sites and programmes to promote education in developing countries. It is also about promoting human ideals and values through culture, education, and science

Reacting to the development, Russia's foreign ministry described it as regrettable decision, adding that the move would disrupt a number of important projects planned by UNESCO.