Israel not returning to UNESCO in near future: official

Israel 'not returning to UNESCO in near future', despite US pressure
2 min read
22 November, 2021
Israel left the UN body in 2019 after years of tension following the recognition of Palestine as a member state in 2011.
Israel pulled out of UNESCO at the start of 2019 [JULIEN DE ROSA/POOL/AFP via Getty]

Israel will not return to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in the near future despite US efforts, Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz told media on Sunday.

Israel's tense relations with UNESCO began when it became the first UN body to give "member state" status to Palestine in 2011. Israel withdrew its membership from the heritage body at midnight 31 December 2018 following years of fall-outs over Palestine's inclusion

The US is reportedly "pressuring" Israel to reactive its membership.

A return to UNESCO membership would "influence the way that the international community looks at the Palestinian Authority and our position is that the Palestinian Authority is not a state", Usphiz said on Israeli radio.

The UNESCO's recognition of Palestinian statehood prompted both Israel and the US to halt payments to the organisation, thereby losing their voting rights in 2013.

Both countries eventually slammed the door completely in 2019, under former US President Donald Trump.

Now, President Joe Biden wants the US to return as a voting member, a move that will require Congress to scrap legislation prohibiting funding of any UN organisation that grants full membership to groups not recognised by the US as a state - in this case, Palestine.

To build political traction for the motion, the Biden administration has pressed Israel to also return to UNESCO.

UNESCO awards membership independently of other UN bodies, most of which have not recognised Palestine as a state.

The UN General Assembly also de facto recognised Palestinian statehood in 2012 when it upgraded its status from "observer mission" to that of "non-member state". 

Tensions between Israel and UNESCO also crystallised around several UNESCO decisions criticising the actions of Israel to alter the cultural and historical legacy in occupied Palestinian territories and East Jerusalem, which Israel claims as part of its capital.

In May 2017, UNESCO passed a resolution which criticised actions taken by "Israel, the occupying power... to alter the character and status of the holy city of Jerusalem".