Australia Can Rescue UNESCO From Palestine Decision

March 30, 2012 by David Singer
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Australia’s new Foreign Minister – Bob Carr – needs to urgently review the decision adopted by the Australian National Commission for UNESCO (ANCUNESCO) – that the admission of Palestine as UNESCO’s 195th member State was consistent with UNESCO‘s Constitution and its Rules of Procedure …writes David Singer.

Only 107 of UNESCO’s 194 member states voted in favour of the resolution to admit Palestine on 31 October 2011. Australia was one of 14 countries that voted against – whilst 52 abstained and another 21  were absent from the vote including some who were ineligible to vote due to unpaid membership fees.

The consequences of that vote  have been catastrophic for UNESCO – and for scores of millions of people around the world dependent on UNESCO’s planned programs during 2012-2013.

22% of UNESCO’s  budget has been lost as a result of America immediately suspending payment of membership dues totalling $260 million to the end of 2013 – because of a 20 years old American domestic law mandating such action.

Staff retrenchments are growing and global programs over the next two years – such as literacy, gender equality, water purification, AIDS and HIV prevention – will have to be abandoned or curtailed – unless America resumes its payments or alternative sources of funding are found,

An Emergency Donor Fund set up by UNESCO has not been very successful – with only about $42 million being raised or pledged in the last four months – much of it to be used to alleviate suffering among the populations in the donor or adjacent countries – rather than universally.

In its latest move to get the American funding back – UNESCO will soon be opening an office in Washington to lobby Congress to amend the law so as to enable the American tap to be turned on again.

Such lobbying is extremely unlikely to succeed – since the chances of Congress backing away from the law mandating the suspension of funds to any United Nations Agency that  accepts the PLO as a full member – outside of negotiations with Israel – is doomed to failure.

Those 107 states who voted to admit Palestine were warned by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bukova of the risk of losing the American funding before they cast their votes. Defiantly ignoring her unambiguous message was both irresponsible and reckless and has caused UNESCO to create its own self induced financial and humanitarian crisis.

Australia’s Head of Mission – Ms Gita Kamath – gave the assembled delegates the following reasons for Australia‘s negative vote:

“Our decision to vote against reflects Australia’s strong concern that consideration of Palestinian membership in UNESCO is premature. The matter of Palestinian membership of the UN has recently been placed before the UN Security Council for its consideration. We should allow the United Nations Security Council process to run its course rather than seek first to address this question in different UN fora.

Our decision also reflects our concerns with the possible implications of a successful vote on UNESCO funding.”

The decision to admit Palestine is open to possible legal challenge for two reasons:
1.    Only states can be admitted to UNESCO and Palestine is not a state,
2.    The number of votes required to admit Palestine is 129 – not the 107 received
After initially receiving an irrelevant response from UNESCO and no answer to a detailed submission made by me on the voting requirements of the Constitution – I then wrote to Ms Kamath on 15 January  – urging her to press UNESCO to review the adequacy of the vote to admit Palestine to UNESCO – and to approach other member States to do likewise.

Ms Kamath’s initial response was identical to UNESCO’s first response to me..

Undeterred – I then sent Ms Kamath the detailed submission I had given UNESCO.  Like UNESCO – neither she nor ANCUNESCO has been prepared to discuss the merits of that submission.

Australia’s former Foreign Minister and Prime Minister – Kevin Rudd – had been actively seeking support for Australia to gain a seat on the UN Security Council. Perhaps he believed that taking a lead role to get UNESCO out of its current woes by promoting Court action that could see Palestine being possibly removed from UNESCO – could have seriously dealt a fatal blow to Australia’s chances of securing that Security Council seat.

There seems to be no other explanation for ANCUNESCO refusing to even consider my submission.

Hopefully Bob Carr will place the looming global humanitarian crisis above the quest for a seat on the UN Security Council. He should take a lead role in getting UNESCO to approach the International Court – as the quickest and best means of restoring the lost American funding.

Australia is perfectly positioned to lobby UNESCO member states to grab this legal lifebelt.

Australia’s support for the creation of a Palestinian State has been long standing – as Ms Kamath  pointed out at the time of the Palestine vote:

“Australia strongly supports the aspirations of the Palestinian people for their own state and believes a negotiated peace process between the parties is the way to achieve this….

Australia has been a consistent supporter of the peace process. We have provided extensive support and committed to over $300 million in humanitarian and development assistance in the next five years building up the institutions of a future Palestinian state.”

Had the delegates from the 107 pro-Palestine voting states followed Australia’s lead  – UNESCO would not be in the sorry position it is today.

If Australia continues to sit pat on its heels – it will be just as responsible for UNESCO’s ongoing problems as those whose votes have put UNESCO in this bind,

Those 87 countries that declined to vote for  Palestine’s admission – for whatever reason – should be readily amenable to an approach by Australia to join in urging UNESCO to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court on the legality of its decision to admit Palestine.

Whilst these countries can rightly claim to not be blamed for the black hole UNESCO has fallen into because of the intemperate action of 107 of their fellow member states – they cannot also afford to sit back and do nothing to rectify a decision which could be in breach of UNESCO’s Constitution –  especially given the global humanitarian problems it has created.

Bob Carr – the former Premier of New South Wales – was parachuted into the role of Australia’s Foreign Minister from political retirement in the space of a few days.

He seems the perfect choice to lobby member States to get UNESCO to beat a path to the International Court.

He needs to act quickly as the global humanitarian crisis adds more victims every day.

David Singer is a Sydney Lawyer and Foundation Member of the International Analysts Network


12 Responses to “Australia Can Rescue UNESCO From Palestine Decision”
  1. Ben says:

    Hello MR Singer

    Courtesy seems to fail you when it uncovers an inconvenient truth. That aside, your claims will be more credible if you show what laws have been violeated by Unesco. You are welcome to quote verbatim the relavant regulations and demonstarte how the decison is illegal.

    • singer says:


      The relevant article in UNESCO’s Constitution states:

      “Subject to the conditions of the Agreement between this Organization and the United Nations Organization, approved pursuant to Article X of this Constitution, states not members of the United Nations Organization may be admitted to membership of the Organization, upon recommendation of the Executive Board, by a two-thirds majority vote of the General Conference.”


      1. Only “states not members of the United Nations” can be admitted to UNESCO under this section.

      2. A two thirds majority vote of the General Conference is required. The words “present and voting” do not appear in this section though they do in the following section applying to the admission of Associate members:

      ” Territories or groups of territories which are not responsible for the conduct of their international relations may be admitted as Associate Members by the General Conference by a two-thirds majority of Members present and voting….,”

      It is clear there is a distinction drawn in the Constitution between the vote specifically required to admit members and the vote specifically required to admit Associate members.

      The position is complicated by a further general provision which appears to be inconsistent with the clear intent of these two specific clauses – which in my opinion cannot negate the clear intention of the above provisions.

      These inconsistencies need to be judicially interpreted and reconciled by the International Court – as well as determining whether Palestine is a “State” entitled to membership of UNESCO.

      UNESCO and ANCUNESCO have been given this opinion – but neither has been prepared to point out where they differ with my detailed submission.

      UNESCO has pursued various avenues lobbying the Americans and trying to raise alternative funds to replace the lost American funding of about $85 million per annum – but has failed so far.

      UNESCO has a choice :

      1. To try and replace the lost funding whilst sliding further into the humanitarian mess it has created for itself


      2. Spend $100000 getting an advisory opinion from the International clarify the meaning of the Constitution.

      If I am right and the Court rules Palestine’s admission to UNESCO is unlawful – then the American funding tap will be turned on again.

      If I am wrong – Palestine’s admission to UNESCO will be judicially confirmed, the inconsistent provisions of the Constitution will be judicially interpreted – but the American funding will not resume unless Congress changes the American domestic law that left America with no option but to suspend the payment of its dues to UNESCO.

      America is acting in accordance with the law – UNESCO is not in my opinion.

      The sooner UNESCO submits its decision to judicial scrutiny – the sooner this crisis is going to end.

      • Otto Waldmann says:

        THE Ben must have his mind twisted in a knot of blindness and stupendous cerebral damage.
        All David Singer wants is that the entire issue by addressed by a COURT !! Ergo, Singer does NOT postulate undue legal autocracy, but, to the contrary , wants institutions outside his own “tendentious” control to judge the international infractions !!!
        Got it !!!???

  2. singer says:


    Petitioning Bob Carr is unnecessary. He- or his advisers – read J Wire or one of the many other on-line global journals where this article has now gone viral. He has the opportunity to respond publicly right here – rather than behind closed doors.

    I have tried enough of that with UNESCO, Ms Kamath and ANCUNESCO

    A copy of this article has been sent to Ms Kamath and ANCUNESCO to give them the opportunity to respond as to its accuracy or to otherwise comment. They too can reply here if they like.

    Australia was certainly not a participant in creating UNESCO’s current problems – but should be taking a lead role in helping UNESCO to resolve those problems by going to the International Court.

    By doing nothing and toeing the UNESCO line – Australia and the other 86 countries that did not vote for Palestine’s admission – have recognized that Palestine is a State – because that is the only way it can constitutionally continue to remain a member of UNESCO.

    Why then is Australia – indeed any of the 87 member states of UNESCO that did not vote for Palestine’s admission – still talking of a two-state solution? That solution has been achieved with the UNESCO vote – unless that decision is found to be unconstitutional.

    Indeed why are any of the other 107 countries in UNESCO that voted for Palestine’s admission to UNESCO as its 195th member state – still talking of a two-state solution? It was created on 31 October 2011 with the UNESCO vote.

    What other conclusion is there when the flag of Palestine is flying over UNESCO headquarters in Paris alongside the other 194 member States?

    Only judicial resolution can clarify the legality of UNESCO’s decision – one way or the other.

  3. Ben says:

    What are the exact rules on voting ? Israel claims to have withdrawn from Gaza and the PA is supposed to be responsible for the West Bank. If Palestine is not a state why does Israel blame Abbas over security ? And the convention in legislatures is that a majority of members present and voting is needed with a minimum for quorum.

    Is this decison more catastrophic than the unenforcable GA resolution on the partition of Palestine ?

    • singer says:


      This is not a matter of conventions – but of inconsistent provisions appearing in UNESCO’s written Constitution – which need to be judicially interpreted so as to resolve those inconsistencies.

      The relevant provisions have been pointed out to UNESCO – but UNESCO has refused to address them.

      In my opinion – 129 votes were needed to admit Palestine. Only 107 were obtained.

      UNESCO has not sought to rebut my opinion. I continually ask – why? I can only assume they have no argument to the contrary – and have told them so. If they do – why not let me in on their secret? I could well have missed something that they could enlighten me on.

      Additionally only States can be admitted as members of UNESCO. Palestine in my opinion does not comply with the conditions necessary to be recognized as a State under customary international law as codified in the Montevideo Convention.

      UNESCO’s decision is catastrophic – since:

      1. I believe it is unlawful and

      2. it has led to UNESCO now being forced to drastically reduce its world wide programs to benefit scores of millions of people over the next two years.

      The 1947 UN Resolution partitioning Western Palestine into a Jewish State and an Arab state was not catastrophic. What was catastrophic was the decision of the Arabs to not accept it – as events ever since then have proved.

      • Ben says:

        Hello Mr Singer

        You say it is your opinion. Is that merely an opinion or a well founded argument ? And the partition resolution was not catastrophic ! There was no referundum on it, it gave the majority of the land to the Zionists who owned less than 13 per cent of the land, and was unilaterrally used by the Zionists who expelled the Palestinians. Even the major sponsors of the resolution including the US were beginning to have second thoughts about it. At least 60 UN resolutions are un-enforced on Palestine and the standard argument is they are UNGA resolutions and un-enforcable.

        • singer says:


          My legal opinion given to UNESCO was a well founded argument. If it was not – I am sure UNESCO would have shot it down in flames. I gave them enough chances to do so.

          The Australian UNESCO mission in Paris and ANCUNESCO also had the same opportunity but again refused to discuss or rebut the arguments I put. They adopted the UNESCO line – say nothing and ignore the claim.

          Well the argument will not go away – and will become increasingly of greater significance as UNESCO’s humanitarian programs are abandoned or curtailed.

          Trying to divert discussion from UNESCO’s current problems by harking back to the 1947 Partition Resolution is an old tactic that I will not be sucked into.

          Keep that subject for the time I talk about it in an article.

          • Ben says:

            Hello Mr Singer

            Thank you for the reply. Before you sermonise to me to “keep to the subject”, I would suggest you read your previous reply. You mentioned the 1974 resultion and commendted on it. As you can see , I am very much on topic, though you might find the truth about the resolution inconvenient.

          • david says:


            Sorry but it was you who first raised the 1947 partition resolution in your 31 March post – when you wrote:
            “Is this decison more catastrophic than the unenforcable GA resolution on the partition of Palestine ?”

            I answered your question out of courtesy – but you wanted to continue arguing the merits of the 1947 Resolution – which had nothing to do with my article.

            I made it clear that you should restrict your comments to the subject matter of my article.

            Get your facts right.

  4. Lynne Newington says:

    Australia’s new Minister for Foreign Affairs, is being brought under scrutiny by others too, in relation to the “lack of transparency in appointing the new ambassador to the Vatican, and blatant violation of Section 116 of our constitution, which states that there should be no religious test applied to any officer of the Commonwealth of Australia In addition, the Vatican is only a recognised state because of a questionable deal done by the Catholic Church by the fascist dictator Mussolini in 1929. Australians should protest against this appointment on both grounds”.
    Ellidh St John Orana WA. Leter to the Editor The Age March 30 2012.
    Someone else has got their facts straight.

  5. Liat Nagar says:

    There are few, if any, politicians in today’s Parliament with the strength of mind and vision to go against the tide. On most issues Australia ‘sits pat on its heels’, more inclined to make pragmatic political decisions than to lead in any way. Let’s hope Bob Carr proves to be different, but the hope I hold in this regard is a small spark only. Do you perhaps intend to petition Bob Carr on the matter?
    I think you’re entitled to a response from Ms Kamath that speaks directly to the issues you raise. Is there some other avenue of complaint you could turn to in this regard?

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