Editorial: Trick, No Treat

For years, during the largely secularized holiday of Halloween, kids would take part in the “Trick or Treat for UNICEF” drive, which is still viable in many American cities-and fully deserves the support of the community. UNICEF is the United Nations Children’s Fund and contributions go to provide life-giving support to children in need the world over.

But this year on Halloween, UNESCO, another arm of the United Nations which was created with lofty ideals, obscenely voted to admit Palestine as a full member-even though the Security Council has not formally acted on the bid by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to admit Palestine to the world body as an independent member state.

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and while its creation was based on the same idealism that pervaded the international community after World War II, it has been a forum for repeated denunciations of the State of Israel for alleged violations of human rights, including those of the Palestinians.  

Now that Palestine has been admitted to UNESCO as a “full member,” Abbas has yet another platform upon which to formally lodge complaints against Israel.

The vote at the UNESCO meeting in Paris was 107 in favor, 14 opposed (including the United States and Canada) and 52 abstentions, a vote which can be seen as a preview of a lopsided favorable vote if the same issue goes before the General Assembly, even if vetoed at the Security Council level. Russia, China and France all supported the Palestinian bid, while Germany joined the U.S. and Canada in voting no. Great Britain and Japan were among those who abstained.

The vote came within a week after Abbas publicly admitted that it was a “mistake” for the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee to reject the U.N. Partition Plan in 1947, which Israel had accepted.

David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, said, “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas knows that neither UNESCO nor any other U.N. agency can deliver a state for his people. Only direct talks with Israel, as U.S. President Barack Obama has said, can bring about a two-state solution within the context of a comprehensive peace accord.”

The very idea that Israel should be the object of scorn and criticism by an organization supposedly focused on education, science and culture is laughable and truly beyond Orwellian. Consider:

• Educational: Israel boasts some of the finest universities in the entire world, including Hebrew University, Bar-Ilan University, Tel Aviv University, The Technion and the Weizmann Institute of Science.

• Scientific: The graduates of The Technion are respected around the world for their scientific expertise and the institute is often called “The MIT of Israel.” Similar scientific breakthroughs occur daily at the Weizmann Institute of Science. Recently, Professor Dan Schechtman of the Technion won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the latest in a long line of Israeli Nobel Laureates in all fields of scientific and cultural endeavor.

• Cultural: The Israel Philharmonic is one of the best on the planet. Israel has numerous first rate theatrical companies, including Habimah and world-class artists whose work is admired around the world. Israel has some of the most significant archeological research anywhere; the exciting new work on the Dead Sea Scrolls has culminated in their being available to a11 online for the first time. Among the Nobel  Prize winners in Literature is S. Y. Agnon, one of Israel’s finest authors.

The ill-advised and ill-timed action by Abbas to attain full membership in UNESCO has already had an immediate and very damaging result for the international body itself. Under a law passed in 1990,  the United States must suspend all funding for UNESCO.  To  its credit, the Obama Administration has already announced that it would not make a $20 million payment to fill out its contributions for the remainder of this year and would  cut off all $60 million in funding for 2012, representing 22 percent  of the entire UNESCO budget.  The selfishness of Abbas has caused great and immediate harm to the very agency that granted his government an unearned and undeserved  status as a full member state.

To his credit, President Obama met Monday with Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Great Britain and official envoy for the Quartet-the United States, Russia, the U.N. and European Union-who are officially charged with advancing the “Road Map” to a two-state solution.

That opportunity still exists for Abbas, but he is making his professed goal of a two-state solution more and more unlikely with his reckless efforts to circumvent the internationally sanctioned peace process.

UNESCO has clearly poisoned the Trick or Treat bag not only of Israel but the world. It has left the entire international community holding the bag simply to give Abbas a meaningless propaganda boost.

Stop the tricks, Abbas, and get back to the negotiating table. That is the only credible path to a Palestinian state, membership in the United Nations and most importantly, lasting peace with Israel and in the Middle East.