Voice

Israel, UNESCO, and the United States

The United States is about to lose its vote in UNESCO, the UN organization devoted to educational and cultural issues. Two years ago, UNESCO members voted to welcome Palestine as a member. Preexisting U.S. legislation required that the United States cease funding the organization, and Washington has now accumulated sufficient back dues to lose its voting privileges. In today's Washington Post, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Esther Brimmer argues that Congress desperately needs to alter the legislation:

Without U.S. support, programs that advance U.S. security will wither...When the Bush administration rejoined UNESCO in 2003, reversing a Cold War-era departure, it recognized that the organization could help fight extremism in the post-9/11 world. Indeed, it provided literacy classes for Afghan police. UNESCO leads the global fight against illiteracy. First lady Laura Bush served as the UNESCO honorary ambassador for its Decade of Literacy. In early 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched a UNESCO program promoting education for women and girls, widely understood to advance long-term economic and social development. On Dec.?10, 2012, UNESCO launched the Malala Fund for Girls Education, deepening its commitment to provide all girls access to school by 2015. 

Even more ambitiously, however, Brimmer argues that Israel should support amending the legislation:

Our decades-old laws may have been an effort to stand with Israel, but Israel will be hurt by the U.S. absence at UNESCO. U.S. officials have worked hard to help forestall or mitigate anti-Israeli actions in international bodies. When controversial Holy Land heritage issues are discussed at UNESCO next year, a non-voting United States will be less able to help its ally. Meanwhile, the UNESCO worldwide Holocaust and anti-genocide education programs will wither without U.S. support. Israelis should welcome an updated approach that restores the U.S. vote and strong voice in international organizations.

I doubt this view will be persuasive in Israel. Even with a vote, the United States hasn't prevented UNESCO from passing resolutions critical of Israel.  In any case, UNESCO is just one part of a much broader strategy of keeping Palestine for achieving full international recognition and participating as an equal in international organizations. Whatever small cost there may be to a U.S. absence from that organization is more than compensated for if--and it's a big "if"--the UNESCO example deters other multilateral bodies from offering Palestine full membership. At the very top of that list is the International Criminal Court, which could in theory investigate Israeli settlement activities on Palestinian territory.  

The Multilateralist

Could the IMF Get Stuck in the Russia-Ukraine Feud?

In the last several months, Ukraine has taken several steps toward a move advanced relationship with the European Union. Via the BBC:

The EU has been pursuing closer economic and social ties with ex-Soviet states for many years, in a so-called "Eastern Partnership".

The plan is to sign a far-reaching association and free trade agreement with Ukraine - seen as an important step towards eventual EU membership. Agreements would also be initialled with Georgia and Moldova.

Kiev has responded with reforms and legislation, and a flurry of diplomacy is under way to seal the deal in time.

The increased coziness with the EU has annoyed Moscow, which wants Ukraine to instead join the customs union it has formed with several other former Soviet republics. As in other similar cases, there have been vague threats that Moscow might use its control of energy resources to punish Kiev for tilting westward. Lithuania's president said recently that Ukraine faces "huge, huge pressure from Russia" not to ink the agreement with the EU.

If Ukraine persists, there's a real chance of economic retaliation from Moscow. And that in turn could put the International Monetary Fund smack in the middle of the high-stakes dispute. Via Reuters:

If the EU-Ukraine pact is signed, and the Kremlin does retaliate in the ways many expect, the EU has plans in place to supply Ukraine with natural gas, as well as arrangements with the IMF for emergency financing - even if some analysts doubt the IMF and Ukraine can bridge long-standing differences.

"The IMF plays a very important role and there are ongoing discussions with them about standby arrangements," said a senior EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A second EU official directly involved in talks on Ukraine added: "There are ongoing discussions to support the IMF and find a way for standby arrangements to be concluded soon."

The head of the IMF's mission in Ukraine said there was no link between Ukraine signing the EU deal and receiving help.

IMF experts and Ukrainian officials have been sporadically butting headsfor months about what reforms Ukraine must undertake to receive a new round of  international assistance. But if a breakthrough with the IMF would help reassure Ukraine about a move toward the EU, it's quite possible that big Western states--including the United States--will "encourage" IMF staff to loosen up a bit on their precious conditionality. Several years ago, political scientist Randall Stone provided evidence of just such a dynamic in previous negotiations with big strategic consequences.