Updated: December 2, 2011 8:10AM
‘Building peace in the minds of men and women” reads the banner atop the web site of UNESCO, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Yet its blatant political posturing Monday served only to set back the cause of peace in the Middle East.
By a lopsided vote of 107 to 14, with 52 abstentions, UNESCO granted the Palestinians full membership status, rewarding Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for refusing to enter into direct talks with Israel. The Palestinians turned to UNESCO when it became apparent they didn’t have the votes in the U.N. Security Council to win membership in the United Nations. Palestinian-sympathizing regimes and their fellow travelers couldn’t resist a gesture that will only bring more strife and maybe bloodshed and even a new war.
This political meddling by a cultural agency may end up hammering the final nail into the coffin of hopes for resuming direct negotiations — recognized by everyone but complete fools, and obviously there are a lot of them in UNESCO, as the only avenue to resolving the conflict.
Only last week a delegation from the Mideast Quartet — the peace-promoting group of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia — was in Jerusalem trying to coach the two sides back to the bargaining table. Israel said it was ready to resume talks without preconditions. The Palestinians rejected talks, demanding a freeze on Israeli building in the disputed territories and even in Jerusalem, a city whose Jewish history dates back four millennia. This is a demand the Palestinians had never made until the Obama administration, in a huge blunder, called it a precondition for talks, only to backpedal once it realized how unrealistic and unreasonable that demand was.
UNESCO’s irresponsible vote comes as Palestinian terrorists fired more than three dozen rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip. Hamas, an organization committed to the death of the Jewish state, rules in Gaza and did nothing to stop the attacks, mostly the work of Islamic Jihad, another terrorist outfit supported by Iran and Syria.
In a cruel irony, one staging ground for the rocket attacks once had been an Israeli community until Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005. One Israeli died in the attacks, and Israel retaliated with strikes killing 10 terrorists.
More powerful, longer-range rockets have been smuggled into Gaza, putting 1 million Israelis at risk, according to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Given the scale of the Gaza threat, Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he couldn’t rule out the possibility in the future of a “full-fledged operation” there, though he downplayed the chances of that. Egypt was said to be trying to broker a return to the uneasy cease-fire that had existed after Israel’s last military incursion into the strip in 2009.
The weekend violence highlighted how combustible the situation remains and therefore how reckless was the UNESCO vote.
Years ago Congress presciently passed legislation to cut off U.S. funding for any U.N. agency that grants membership status to the Palestinians. American aid accounts for 22 percent of the UNESCO budget. So its political games threaten funding for its core mission to advance gender equality, education, clean water, sustainable development and cultural diversity. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.