Lawmakers on Wednesday warned the U.N. cultural agency that it stands to lose tens of millions of dollars in U.S. funding if it agrees to admit Palestine as a member before an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is concluded.
Two top members of the House panel that oversees such funding say the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization could lose roughly $80 million in annual U.S. contributions if it follows the recommendation of its board and admits Palestine.
Over U.S. objections, the UNESCO board voted earlier Wednesday in Paris to recommend Palestine's membership. A vote from the full body is expected later this month.
The U.S. provides 22 percent of UNESCO's budget but was in the clear minority on the 58-member UNESCO executive board, which voted 40-4 with 14 abstentions in favor of the recommending the Palestinian bid. Apart from the U.S., only Latvia, Germany and Romania voted against, according to U.S. officials.
While lawmakers have proposed suspending U.S. assistance to the Palestinians if they proceed with a bid for U.N. membership, current U.S. law prohibits giving funds to the United Nations or any U.N. agency that grants the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states.
In addition, existing U.S. law can bar Washington from funding any U.N. body that accepts members that do not have the "internationally recognized attributes of statehood." That requirement is generally, but not exclusively, interpreted to mean U.N. membership.
The State Department said it was studying the implications of Palestinian membership on UNESCO funding but repeated the U.S. position that such a move would complicate the Mideast peace process by raising tensions with Israel, which is fiercely opposed to the step.
The Palestinians are seeking recognition and full membership in the United Nations at the U.N. Security Council but the U.S. has said it will veto the bid unless there is a peace deal with Israel. Faced with that obstacle, the Palestinians are seeking membership in other U.N. bodies including UNESCO.
Reps. Kay Granger, R-Texas, and Nita Lowey, D-NY, the chairwoman and ranking member, respectively, of the House panel that controls U.S. foreign aid, both urged UNESCO not to admit the Palestinians, noting the aid restrictions.
Granger said in a statement that she would advocate cutting the UNESCO contribution if the Palestinians succeed.
"Making a move in another U.N. agency will not only jeopardize our relationship with the Palestinians, it will jeopardize our contributions to the United Nations," she said. "There are consequences for short-cutting the process, not only for the Palestinians, but for our longstanding relationship with the United Nations."
Lowey said in a statement the UNESCO board's action was "premature and counter-productive" to efforts to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to long-stalled peace talks.
"It is incumbent on every agency affiliated with the United Nations to do its utmost to foster _ not thwart _ conditions for peace," she said. "Toward that end, I urge the full membership of UNESCO to reject this destructive gambit and urge the Palestinian Authority to return to direct negotiations with Israel."