According to recent reports, US President Joe Biden is pressuring Israel to return to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a means of facilitating legislation that would permit his administration to reenter the organization despite legal obstacles.
Despite legal obstacles that prohibit the US from rejoining UNESCO, the Biden administration has begun investigating loopholes that would allow a return to the organization. In order to rejoin UNESCO, the U.S. would have to pay around $500 million in membership dues, which would require action by Congress. The Senate Appropriations Committee is currently working on a special waiver that would permit the funding despite the law prohibiting it. To become law, the waiver would have to pass both the Senate and House.
Pundits note that the waiver has little hope of passing unless it receives a positive response from the Israeli government as a single to pro-Israel political elements in the US Senate and Congress. It was reported that US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield raised the issue with Israeli officials when she was in Jerusalem last week, working to gain their support before the vote.
The Biden administration has already abstained from an anti-Israel resolution in the UN, allowing the resolution supporting UNRWA and the call for millions of descendants of “Palestinians” who left Israel decades ago to immigrate to Israel today in what is mislabeled “the right of return.”
The Biden administration also restored funding to the PA and Gaza while acknowledging that some of the funding might end up in Hamas coffers destined to be used for terrorism against Israel.
In 2010, UNESCO’s Executive Board voted to declare the Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb, to be recognized exclusively as “al-Haram al-Ibrahimi” and “Bilal bin Rabah Mosque” and stated that they were “an integral part of the occupied Palestinian Territories”, effectively erasing any Jewish religious or historical connection to its holy sites as well as refuting any claim Israel might have. Israel partially suspended ties with UNESCO. In 2016, UNESCO passed a resolution on East Jerusalem that condemned Israel for “aggressions” by Israeli police and soldiers and “illegal measures” against the freedom of worship and Muslims’ access to their holy sites, while also recognizing Israel as the occupying power. The resolution referred to the sacred hilltop compound in Jerusalem’s Old City only by its Muslim name “Al-Haram al-Sharif”, Arabic for Noble Sanctuary.
UNESCO granted full membership to the Palestinian Authority in 2011.
In October 2017, the United States and Israel announced they would withdraw from the organization, citing anti-Israel bias. On 1 January 2019, Israel formally left UNESCO in pursuance of the US withdrawal over the perceived continuous anti-Israel bias.
The withdrawal by the US was a financial blow to UNESCO. The United States was responsible for 20% of UNESCO’s funding but has not paid over $600 million in dues since it stopped paying its $80 million annual UNESCO dues when Palestine became a full member. A law passed by Congress in the 1990s bans U.S. funding for any UN agency that accepts Palestine as a full member state.
As a result of the unpaid dues, the U.S. voting rights in UNESCO were revoked.