The US has decided to withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), accusing the body of “being biased against Israel.”
US state department spokesperson Heather Nauert announced on Thursday that the US would establish an observer mission to replace its representation at the Paris-based agency.
Nauert said the US step reflected the need for fundamental reform in the organization in view of its anti-Israel bias.
Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s outgoing director-general, said she “deeply regrets” the decision and is convinced that “UNESCO has never been so important for the US, or the US for UNESCO.”
The decision demonstrates the US administration’s “complete and total bias” towards Israel, Mustafa Barghouthi, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative (political party), told al-Jazeera satellite channel over the phone from Ramallah.
“This behavior is counterproductive and shameful,” Barghouthi said
“Sooner or later they will see Palestine in every UN agency. Will the US respond to that by withdrawing from the WHO or the World Intellectual Property Organization? They will be hurting only themselves,” he added.
He also said it is “as if Israel is dictating US policy not only in the Middle East but also in international organizations. That’s going to have a very harmful effect on the idea the US being a mediator between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”
The US was angered in 2011 when UNESCO members granted Palestine full membership of the body and decided to stop funding UNESCO but did not officially withdraw.
The US opposes any move by UN bodies to recognize Palestine as a state, believing that this must await a negotiated Middle East peace deal.
Last July, UNESCO declared the Old City of al-Khalil (Hebron) in the occupied West Bank, as a Palestinian World Heritage site in danger, a decision sharply criticized by the US and Israel.
In recent years, UNESCO adopted resolutions that criticized Israel for mishandling heritage Islamic sites in Jerusalem and condemned “Israeli violations and illegal measures against freedom of worship.”