SADOW: Poverty Point, Israel, UNESCO And The Federal Budget

While most observers could heave a sigh of relief at the federal budget deal passed into law last week, some felt disappointed at the failure to retain in it a special line item relevant to northeast Louisiana. Such feeling is misplaced.

Last summer, Sen. Mary Landrieu in the Senate version of what would gravitate into an omnibus appropriations bill got inserted a provision that would allocate $700,000 directly to the World Heritage Centre. That represented about one percent of dues owed in arrears for the past year to the organization’s parent, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, representing that portion for operating the WHC.

Despite being the chief architect of UNESCO, the U.S. has had a contentious history with the organization. In 1984, it withdrew as the organization, run by a 21-member board, increasingly promoted an anti-open society, anti-free enterprise agenda while tolerating administrative waste and aggrandizement. Internal governance changes led to the U.S. rejoining it in 2003, but in the interim laws had been passed that forbade the U.S. to contribute money to organizations that recognized as a full member, connoting that it is a state, what today is the Palestinian Authority.

The PA was set up by Israel under international agreement to represent Palestinian Arab interests in its occupied territories. These territories were originally to have become an Arab state upon the creation of Israel in 1948 by international law, but over the course of several wars started by Arab states on Israel, they came under Israeli sovereignty. Israel has maintained that while these territories may have some internal self-governance, it will not release its sovereignty over them until all elements that control some autonomous governance over that territory, which includes not only the PA but also military/terrorist organizations that the PA has been unable to bring under its control, have agreed that they renounce claims and violence to achieve them over territory designated as Israel’s in the 1948 U.N. declaration.

Part of the U.S. objection to allowing the PA to act as if a state by having it recognized as a state in international organizations is that the U.S. before recognizing the PA as governing a state it must conclude a treaty with Israel that establishes Israeli recognition of the state. Israel has not done so because of insufficient security guarantees. Essentially, it has two objections: first, that no absolutely unambiguous indication exists that the operative covenant of the PA has been altered to eliminate passages that call for the end of the State of Israel; and, second, that the PA’s inability to control the military/terrorist organizations that actually govern a good portion of the occupied territories mean that any agreement solely with the PA does not contain sufficient security guarantees to conclude a lasting “land for peace” deal.

Thus, the U.S. law remains in effect and because of UNESCO’s treating the PA as a state, in late 2011 the U.S. halted any dues payment to it. And as a result, it made for a complicating factor when a year ago Louisiana’s Poverty Point National Monument was put up for World Heritage Site status, so designated by the WHC. It would join nearly a thousand others worldwide.

But policy-makers fear the WHC, following the historical propensity for politics to intervene in U.N. decision-making, will snub the nomination in retaliation. Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne argues that more than prestige is involved in securing the designation; he also asserts that in a similar instance for a previously-named American site, this has caused an increase in visitation to it that undoubtedly also brings in more state and local tax dollars.

Therefore, Landrieu got that direct appropriation into the Senate’s version, the cause for which its inclusion on the House side was taken up by Rep. Vance McAllister upon his election. However, they failed as the bill which actually would become the budget bill when introduced in the House in November did not contain this provision. The reason why, according to editorializing appearing in the Baton Rouge/New Orleans Advocate’s news article about this was that “some House Republicans refused to accept it for anti-Palestinian political reasons.”

A more valid analysis than article author Jordan Blum’s opinion inserted and masquerading as news is that House members wished not to abandon principle that has guided sensible U.S. foreign policy on the issue. Israel has remained a bulwark of democracy in the Middle East and has acted as a true friend of America in the region. It would be foolish to erode this position, which allowing U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund UNESCO in any way would do.

Granted, this erosion in practical terms would be extremely small. But the principle is far more important. For one thing, by making one exception, it could empower ways to get around the laws completely.

But, more importantly, to secure peace and to promote U.S. interests in the region that ensure a maximal payoff, Israel, which has tried for two decades through a serious of proposals that have given Palestinian interests almost everything they have asked yet always were rejected by them because of the security guarantees requested, must be backed in all ways in acquiring this guarantee. Most importantly, that includes discouraging any international arrangements that don’t adhere to a two-state solution that is not to Israel’s security satisfaction.

Thus, it is inappropriate for Landrieu, McAllister, or anybody else to try to go around the ban on funding organizations that do not pursue this goal. It would be equally as inappropriate for Louisiana to pay it (technically, Poverty Point is administered by the state even with its national designation). Maybe this will cost Poverty Point the designation and bring in fewer tourists than otherwise, but following the principle behind it brings far more benefits to America as a whole.

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