Nearly five years after President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) citing anti-Israel bias, America is set to rejoin.
The US reportedly informed Unesco of its intention last week and a session to approve its re-entry is expected to be scheduled for July.
Washington withdrew from Unesco in 2018, citing “concerns of mounting arrears”, the need for “fundamental reform” of the organisation, and continued “anti-Israel bias”.
Israel quit at the same time. If the US rejoins, Israel and Lichtenstein will be left as the world’s only two non-members.
It was under the Obama administration in 2011 that the US stopped paying Unesco fees in protest at the agency’s decision to grant Palestine full membership. When the US is a member, it accounts for 22 per cent of the agency’s total budget.
In a 2016 resolution on world heritage sites in danger, the Unesco World Heritage Committee registered the Tomb of the Patriarchs, located in the West Bank city of Hebron, as being in the “State of Palestine”.
Unesco’s director-general, Audrey Azoulay, summoned the ambassadors of member states to an urgent meeting on Monday to discuss US re-entry.
In a letter to the US State Department, Azoulay called the move a “strong act of confidence, in Unesco and in multilateralism”.
The decision was welcomed by the World Jewish Congress, which praised Unesco’s Holocaust remembrance and interfaith initiatives. But other Jewish groups urged caution.
In a statement on Twitter, B’nai B’rith International urged the US to seek “assurances that Unesco will focus on its mission without politicisation and that Israel be treated equally within it. Vigilance by all stakeholders will be key.”
The US Congress approved the allocation of upwards of $500 million last December to settle the country’s unpaid dues to the body and allow for its return as a full member.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the growing influence of China on the agency’s agenda was a major reason for the US’s return. He said that in the US’s absence, “someone else” would help shape the discussion, “and that someone is probably China”.
The US left Unesco once before, in 1984, with the Reagan administration alleging financial mismanagement and undue Soviet influence. The UK quit too under Margaret Thatcher, citing similar reasons, but rejoined in 1997.