On Monday the Palestinian Authority obtained a considerable, but basically symbolic, political success with its entry in Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Of the 173 states present, 107, including France, Spain, China, Russia and India, voted in favor; 14 against (the United States, Israel, Germany, Canada and Holland, among others), while 52 abstained (among them the United Kingdom, Mexico and Italy). But the problems this entry raises for the international agency have only begun.
Washington was quick to announce it will now suspend its remittance of funds to the organization - 22 percent of its budget - in compliance with a law that blocks American financing of any UN agency that admits the Palestinian movement. And Israel affirmed it was going to reconsider its cooperation with the organization.
The freezing of the $60 million payment that Washington was to make this month creates a serious problem for President Obama in his policy concerning the Middle East, where no state of that region will fail to protest against the American double standard, invariably favorable to Israel.
Both Washington and Jerusalem argue that Palestinian entry in international organizations contravenes the mandates of the UN, which demand that the two parties negotiate directly for peace. The Palestinian Authority maintains, on the contrary, that continued Israeli settlement in the occupied territories makes negotiation impossible, given that it prejudices the fate of these territories. There have been no attempts at negotiation in the last 13 months.
The United States had already left Unesco in 1984, having accused the organization of being an instrument of communism, and only rejoined it again in 2003. On September 23 of this year, the Palestinian Authority presented a formal request to enter the UN as a state. This request will come before the Security Council on November 17, though Washington has repeatedly said it will use its veto to block the Palestinian pretension.
In a speech to the Unesco conference Spain's Minister of Science and Innovation, Cristina Garmendia, remarked that Spain had "taken its place on the right side of history." To deny the Palestinian people the benefit of membership in international organizations is hard to defend from any impartial, disinterested point of view - that is, from the position of any party not directly implicated in the conflict. For this reason, if Palestinian membership in the UN is to be blocked, then its membership in Unesco, even as a non-state entity, should be an appreciable consolation prize.