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Australia can rescue UNESCO from Palestine decision

By David Singer - posted Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Australia’s new Foreign Minister Bob Carr needs to urgently review the decision adopted by the Australian National Commission for UNESCO (ANCUNESCO) that the admission of Palestine as UNESCO's 195th Member State was consistent with UNESCO‘s Constitution and its Rules of Procedure.

Only 107 of UNESCO’s 194 member states voted in favor of the resolution to admit Palestine on 31 October 2011. Australia was one of 14 countries that voted against, while 52 abstained and another 21 were absent from the vote including some who were ineligible to vote due to unpaid membership fees. 

The consequences of that vote have been catastrophic for UNESCO, and for scores of millions of people around the world dependent on UNESCO’s planned programs during 2012-2013.  


Twenty-two per cent of UNESCO’s budget has been lost as a result of America immediately suspending payment of membership dues totaling $260 million to the end of 2013 because of a 20 years old American domestic law mandating such action.

Staff retrenchments are growing and global programs over the next two years - such as literacy, gender equality, water purification, AIDS and HIV prevention - will have to be abandoned or curtailed - unless America resumes its payments or alternative sources of funding are found, 

An Emergency Donor Fund set up by UNESCO has not been very successful with only about $42 million being raised or pledged in the last four months; much of it to be used to alleviate suffering among the populations in the donor or adjacent countries, rather than universally.

In its latest move to get the American funding back UNESCO will soon be opening an office in Washington to lobby Congress to amend the law so as to enable the American tap to be turned on again. 

Such lobbying is extremely unlikely to succeed since the chances of Congress backing away from the law mandating the suspension of funds to any United Nations Agency that accepts Palestine as a full member - outside of negotiations with Israel - is doomed to failure.

The 107 states that voted to admit Palestine were warned by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bukova of the risk of losing the American funding before they cast their votes. Defiantly ignoring this unambiguous message was both irresponsible and reckless and has caused UNESCO to create its own self-induced financial and humanitarian crisis.


Australia’s Head of Mission, Gita Kamath, gave the assembled delegates the following reasons for Australia‘s negative vote: "Our decision to vote against reflects Australia’s strong concern that consideration of Palestinian membership in UNESCO is premature. The matter of Palestinian membership of the UN has recently been placed before the UN Security Council for its consideration. We should allow the United Nations Security Council process to run its course rather than seek first to address this question in different UN for a…Our decision also reflects our concerns with the possible implications of a successful vote on UNESCO funding.”

The decision to admit Palestine is open to possible legal challenge for two reasons: Only states can be admitted to UNESCO and Palestine is not a state and the number of votes required to admit Palestine is 129 - not the 107 received.

Australia’s former Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had been actively seeking support for Australia to gain a seat on the U.N. Security Council. Perhaps he believed that taking a lead role to get UNESCO out of its current woes by promoting action that could see Palestine being possibly removed from UNESCO. This could have seriously dealt a fatal blow to Australia’s chances of securing that Security Council seat. 

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About the Author

David Singer is an Australian Lawyer, a Foundation Member of the International Analyst Network and Convenor of Jordan is Palestine International - an organisation calling for sovereignty of the West Bank and Gaza to be allocated between Israel and Jordan as the two successor States to the Mandate for Palestine. Previous articles written by him can be found at

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