UNESCO has suspended the voting rights of the the United States and its ally Israel, two years after both countries missed a crucial deadline to resume their funding for UNESCO.
The two countries decided not to repay their debt to the world's culture agency as punishment following the organization's decision to accept Palestine as a full member in 2011.
Funding from the US accounts for some 22 percent of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s budget, and according to UNESCO rules the US must resume funding or forfeit its voting power.
The US had until Friday morning to resume funding or explain itself, otherwise it would automatically lose its vote. The US missed the Friday deadline to provide official justification for its failure to resume its funding to UNESCO and as such lost its voting rights, a UNESCO official said.
The suspension of US contributions, which to date amounts to about $240 million, has created big financial problems for UNESCO, forcing it to cut programs and slash spending.
US State Department spokeswoman said that the loss of a vote in the General Conference was not the same as the US losing its membership.
"We note a loss of vote in the General Conference is not a loss of US membership," Psaki said. "The United States intends to continue its engagement with UNESCO in every possible way -- we can attend meetings and participate in debate, and we will maintain our seat and vote as an elected member of the Executive Board until 2015."
"President Obama is seeking authority from Congress to continue to pay its dues to UNESCO, despite the fact that Palestinians have been admitted to the UN organization as a member state," Psaki said.
Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Nimrod Barkan, told The Associated Press that his country supported the US decision, “objecting to the politicization of UNESCO, or any international organization, with the accession of a non-existing country like Palestine.”
On Oct. 31, 2011, UNESCO approved the bid of Palestine for full membership. The Palestinian bid received 107 yes votes during a meeting in Paris, with 14 nations voting against and 52 abstaining.
The US, Canada, Germany and Holland voted against Palestinian membership. Brazil, Russia, China, India, South Africa and France voted in favor. Britain and Italy abstained.
At that time, Palestinian said it was "very moving" to see the Palestinian flag raised at the UNESCO headquarters. "We hope this augurs well for Palestine becoming a member of other international organizations," he said.
On the other hand, the Israeli representative to UNESCO called the decision "tragic for the idea of UNESCO." The US representative said the decision would "complicate our ability to support UNESCO."