US Announces UNESCO Pullout Amid Palestinian Tensions

US withdraws from UNESCO

The United States says it will withdraw from UNESCO at the end of 2018 in what could be interpreted as a move to push the body to make fundamental changes being demanded by Washington.

Hours later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would leave the agency too, praising the U.S. as "brave and moral".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision to leave UNESCO "brave" and "moral".

Netanyahu said the UN's culture and heritage arm had become "a theatre of the absurd" which "instead of preserving history, distorts it".

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave formal notification of the USA withdrawal on the grounds of "continuing anti-Israel bias" and "mounting arrears".

According to the State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, Washington would establish an "observer mission" to replace its representation at the Paris-based agency.

This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The Government is committed to continued United Kingdom membership of Unesco and to working with other member states in support of its important work".

This is not the first time that the U.S. has withdrawn from UNESCO.

A spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he "does deeply regret this decision to withdraw from UNESCO".

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It's also why the Palestinians, frustrated with the failure of US-sponsored negotiations to produce a peace agreement, pushed to be recognized as a UNESCO member-state: It was a venue in which they stood a real chance at gaining symbolic statehood status, and thus in theory putting more diplomatic pressure on Israel to sit down and negotiate.

Leaving UNESCO might seem like typical Trump isolationism, but the U.S.'s beef with the organization goes back to previous administrations.

The Israel controversy re-ignited this summer after UNESCO named Hebron's city center a Palestinian World Heritage Site.

UNESCO is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions around the world. "Unfortunately, its extreme politicization has become a chronic embarrassment", she said in a statement.

Israel's Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan took to Twitter and called on the U.S. to stop funding the United Nations if the global body publishes the so-called "blacklist" of companies that operate there.

Despite the funding cut, the United States remains a member of UNESCO, and even has a vote on the executive board, which selects the new director general.

"At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack".

After the 1984 withdrawal, for what was described as pro-Soviet Union bias, the US rejoined in 2002 as part of an effort by the George W. Bush administration to emphasize a message of worldwide cooperation.

The resolution also criticised Israel's activities at holy places in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

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