Diplomacy

Allegations of Palestinian Scorched Earth Campaign After UNESCO Targets Israel

Palestinian diplomats last year launched a diplomatic campaign to gain non-member statehood status via the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), brushing aside calls from President Barack Obama to put aside the campaign and triggering automatic U.S. sanctions that endangered the financial viability of the organization. U.S. lawmakers specifically expressed concerns that the Palestinians would politicizing the UNGA.

Fears of politicization were grounded in, among other things, the diplomatic punchline that the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) had become. The body regularly sees borderline surreal displays of anti-Israel diplomacy being conducted by rogue regimes in the name of human rights. U.S. funding for the UNHRC has become a perennially controversial issue.

The same dynamic played out in the context of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The Palestinians ascended to UNESCO in 2011 over U.S. objections. The U.S. reacted by freezing funding for UNESCO, financially crippling the organization and sending it into what its director general called its “worst ever financial situation.” Palestinian diplomats almost immediately moved to orient UNESCO in an anti-Israel direction, launching an initiative revolving around the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem that also drew broad condemnation for politicization.

Fears that Palestinian officials would continue to politicize the once-credible United Nations organization deepened last Friday when UNESCO passed no less than six anti-Israel resolutions. Nimrod Barkan, Israel’s envoy to the body, called the resolutions part of UNESCO’s recent “obsession” with Israel.

The combination is part of what observers increasingly worry is a diplomatic scorched-earth style campaign being conducted by Palestinian diplomats: hijacking international forums to promote anti-Israel diplomacy at the expense of those forums’ viability and credibility. Brett Schaefer, a fellow at the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, has already outlined how the Palestinians have tried to mirror their moves in the UNGA and the UNHRC inside the International Criminal Court (ICC):

Moreover, the Palestinian Authority could also use membership in these organizations to launch diplomatic, political, and legal challenges to Israel. In 2009 the Palestinians asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to extend its jurisdiction to the Palestinian territories and investigate crimes allegedly committed by Israel.[81] The ICC has yet to decide on that request. In another example, the Palestinians have previously sought to register Jewish and Christian holy sites as Palestinian “World Heritage” sites under the UNESCO program, including the towns of Hebron and Bethlehem, and the Church of the Nativity.[82] The Palestinians have already announced that one of their first actions after gaining UNESCO membership would be to resubmit these World Heritage requests.

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