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UNITED NATIONS: The United States has announced it will withdraw from the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organisation, accusing the body of “anti-Israel bias”.

A US State Department spokesperson said the US would establish an “observer mission” to replace its representation at the Paris-based agency.

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” given the rise of what she called violent extremism and terrorism in the world.

The decision demonstrates the US administration’s “complete and total bias” towards Israel, says Mustafa Barghouti, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party comprising secular intellectuals.

Read: Palestine in Unesco

Barghouti said it is “as if Israel is dictating US policy not only in the Middle East but also in international organisations. That’s going to have a very harmful effect on the idea the US being a mediator between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

In 2011 when Unesco members granted Palestine full membership of the body, despite opposition from its ally Israel, the US stopped paying into Unesco but did not officially withdraw. The US opposes any move by UN bodies to recognise Palestine as a state, believing that this must await a negotiated Middle East peace deal.

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.

“This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at Unesco, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation, and continuing anti-Israel bias at Unesco,” she said in a statement. Donald Trump’s administration is also reviewing many of its multilateral commitments, pursuing what he calls an “America First” foreign policy.

AFP adds: The United States has walked away once before under ex-president Ronald Reagan, who quit Unesco in 1984 over alleged financial mismanagement and claims of anti-US bias in some of its policies.

President George W. Bush announced America’s return in 2002, but relations soured again in 2011 when Barack Obama pulled the plug on funding to the body after its members voted to admit Palestine as a full member.

“Unesco is about promoting our ideals and values through culture, education and science,” France’s UN ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters in New York, adding that “we need an America that stays committed to world affairs.” Israel, which remains a Unesco member, said the move by the Trump administration marked a “new era” for the United Nations and showed there was a “price to pay for discrimination against Israel”.

The US decision, first reported by Foreign Policy magazine, comes as European powers face another setback in their efforts to lobby Trump to respect Washington’s international commitments. In June, he said he would withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, and later this week he is set to accuse Iran of failing to respect a nuclear deal negotiated by world powers in the same year — taking the opposite view of his allies.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2017

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