Trump’s latest blow: US dissociates itself from UNESCO

The US gave a massive blow to UNESCO as it withdraws from the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), accusing the body of "anti-Israel bias". This may be one of the confirmations that President Donald Trump's administration is also reviewing many of its multilateral commitments, to fall in line with what he calls an "America First" policy that has left allies in Europe worried.

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Donald Trump
Donald Trump

In a statement announcing its withdrawal, Israel supported the US administration’s decision, calling it  “courageous and moral”, and accused UNESCO of becoming a “theatre of the absurd”. Israel’s relation with this UN agency grew sour since an UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem in May strongly criticized Israel’s occupation of the eastern part of the city.

“The prime minister instructed the foreign ministry to prepare Israel’s withdrawal from the organisation alongside the United States,” Benjamin Netayanu’s office said in a statement.

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. UNESCO also condemned Israel in the past for its activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In retaliation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a $1m cut in funding to the UN, saying the UNESCO vote ignored Jewish ties to the site.

But the latest development demonstrates the US administration’s “complete and total bias” towards Israel, says Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a secular political party.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, said through a spokesperson that he “regrets this development deeply”.

Barghouti, of the Palestinian National Initiative, said it is “as if Israel is dictating US policy not only in the Middle East but also in international organisations.

Reports say the US withdrawal is also motivated by a desire to stop accruing arrears to the agency itself. Despite suspending funding the US continues to be charged, and now owes more than $500m.

In recent months, Trump has criticized what he sees as a disproportionate contribution by the US to UN institutions. The US funds 22% of the UN’s regular budget and 28% of UN peacekeeping. 

The US decision, comes as its western allies fail in their efforts to convince Trump to respect Washington’s international commitments.

Previously, Trump said he would withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, and now he is set to penalise Iran and likely to annul the deal finalised under Obama.