On December 29, 2017, after lengthy anticipation, Director-General Audrey Azoulay officially announced Israel’s withdrawal from the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) after being a member since September 1, 1949. Azoulay’s statement makes it evident that Israel’s withdrawal was directly in line with the United States’s withdrawal earlier last year: “I was officially notified today by the Israeli Government of Israel’s withdrawal from the Organization effective on 31 December 2018, a decision which was announced on 12 October 2017.” The announcement date, the withdrawal date at the end of this year and perhaps, most importantly, the official justification between these countries are identical. Unfortunately, for world peace, the recent withdrawal compounds the “step backwards for global cultural cooperation,” which Professor Robin Coningham, a UN consultant and Durham University academic, adeptly described the U.S.’s withdrawal, according to The Conversation.
In October, the United States justified their withdrawal from UNESCO because of the organization’s “need for fundamental reform…and the continuing anti-Israel bias.” This claim for bias can be traced back to 2011 when Palestine joined UNESCO, becoming its 195th member. This recognition of Palestine as a country wasn’t provocative in itself, however, in November 2016 the Organization for World Peace reported that the first talk to withdraw UNESCO had come as the result of the so-called ‘inflammatory resolution on Jerusalem.’ This article was referring to the World Heritage Committee’s, a subsidiary of UNESCO, referral to Al-Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem only in its Arab name. The fact that this had been done by a committee that features representatives from 21 states, but does not include Israel or its notable allies, yet included Arab states, such as Kuwait, was viewed as an inflammatory action by UNESCO, according to the United Nations. This led to open condemnation of UNESCO. For instance, according to The OWP, the “Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said that they ‘will not co-operate with an organization denying the Jewish People’s connection to Jerusalem.’” Whilst the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to The OWP, argued that “to say…Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall is like saying that China has no connection to the Great all of China…By this absurd decision, UNESCO has lost what little legitimacy it had left.”
Furthermore, the U.S. and Israel are not the first countries to withdraw from the UNESCO, which was formed in 1946 with 37 member countries. For example, the U.K., U.S., and Singapore withdrew in 1986 and rejoined in 1997, 2003 and 2007 respectfully, whilst South Africa was absent from 1957 to 1994, according to UNESCO. All of the countries had varied political reasons for their actions, such as South Africa, which withdrew due to the organization’s interference with the country’s racial issues. In all of these cases, it was temporary as governments realized the multilateral diplomacy that UNESCO provides was paramount.
With that said, it can only be hoped that this realization is made again before long because the immediate implication of the withdrawal of Israel, alongside the United States, is negative. Furthermore, President Donald Trump’s administration has expressed an interest in withdrawing all funding and memberships from all organizations that include Palestinian membership or any indication of bias, as reported by The OWP. Therefore, it can be deduced that Israel will follow, negatively impacting communication, which will ultimately make it harder to discuss peaceful resolutions to the conflict occurring between Israel and Palestine. It also means that these two countries will not be working towards and funding the Sustainable Development Goals UNESCO pioneers, as well programmes, such as One Planet, One Ocean, and Education 21st Century, which have a larger impact on worldwide peace and security.
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