US and Israel formally quit UNESCO over ‘bias’

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The United States and Israel have officially quit the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day, the culmination of a process triggered more than a year ago.

The withdrawal is mainly procedural yet serves a new blow to UNESCO, co-founded by the US after World War II to foster peace.

The Trump administration filed its notice to withdraw in October 2017 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed suit, accusing the UN agency of anti-Israel bias.

The Paris-based organisation has previously criticised Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and granted full membership to Palestine in 2011. The US has demanded “fundamental reform” in the agency, adding it could not accept decision that go against the US or Israel.

UNESCO is best known for its work to preserve heritage, including maintaining a list of World Heritage sites, and programmes to promote education in developing countries.

The withdrawals will not greatly affect UNESCO financially, since it has been dealing with a funding slash ever since 2011 when both Israel and the US stopped paying dues after Palestine was voted in as a member state.

Since then officials estimate that the US – which accounted for around 22 percent of the total budget – has accrued $600m in unpaid dues, which was one of the reasons for President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw. Israel owes an estimated $10m.