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US return to UNESCO leaves Israel in awkward spot

After member states of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization agreed to take the United States back into the agency's fold, Israel is finding itself on its own.
ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images

PARIS — Israel finds itself in an uncomfortable position after the Friday decision by UNESCO members to readmit the United States, six years after it quit the organization over alleged anti-Israel positions. Israel’s Foreign Ministry had not commented on this development at time of publication.

By a large majority, members of the Paris-based UN agency for international cooperation on education, science and culture approved the request submitted by Washington earlier this month to return to the organization after it pledged to pay back six years in dues to the organization in installments. 

According to diplomatic sources in the country, the chances of Israel returning to the UN agency are currently very slim, despite US recognition that the agency had changed it approach on Middle East issues. Thanks to mediation efforts by UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay over the past six years, texts affecting Israel are no longer approved by a majority vote. Rather, they are accepted by consensus after consultations with Jordan, Palestine and Israel, even though Israel is no longer a member of the agency. 

The envoys of Russia, Iran, Syria and Palestine expressed several objections during the debates on Thursday and Friday to the financial arrangements involved in the US return to the UN body. Iraq welcomed the return of the United States, expressing hope to work together on sustainable development goals. Mauritania, Algeria and Libya also welcomed the proposal for the United States to return. 

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