Reporter Stumps State Spokesperson On Negative Consequences Of Palestinian UNESCO Membership

State Dept. spokesperson Victoria Nuland

In a sharp exchange yesterday at the press room in Foggy Bottom, a reporter stumped State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on the negative consequences of Palestinian membership in UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural body, which caused the U.S. to cut off its funding to the organization.

The questioning built off Nuland’s introductory remarks that the vote to give Palestine a seat at UNESCO was “regrettable, premature, and undermines our shared goal of a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East.” The vote was a landslide, with only 13 other countries out of 172 UNESCO members voting against the Palestinians, leading AP reporter Matt Lee to wonder why such an overwhelming number didn’t vote with the U.S. when, as the U.S. posited, the outcome ran contra a “shared goal.”

Lee asked Nuland about what exactly was so “detrimental” about Palestinian UNESCO membership — other than Israeli discontent and triggering the U.S. law to cut off funds — and she responded that it “could exacerbate the environment” in which the U.S. is trying to bring parties together for talks. Lee then dug for more specific consequences:

LEE: How exactly does it exacerbate the environment if it changes nothing on the ground, unlike say, construction of settlements? It changes nothing on the ground. It gives Palestine membership in UNESCO, which is a body that the U.S. didn’t — was so unconcerned about for many years that it just wasn’t even a member.

NULAND: Well, I think you know that this Administration is committed to UNESCO, rejoined UNESCO, wants to see UNESCO’s work go forward —

LEE: Well, actually, it was the last Administration that rejoined UNESCO, not this one. But the – I need to have some kind of clarity on how this undermines the peace process other than the fact that it upsets Israel.

NULAND: Again, we are trying to get both of these parties back to the table. That’s what we’ve been doing all along… So, in that context, we have been trying to improve the relationship between these parties, improve the environment between them, and we are concerned that we exacerbate tensions with this, and it makes it harder to get the parties back to the table.

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Lee then went on, noting that the parties have not been in talks, to ask rhetorically: “So how can things get worse than they already are?” (HT: SM Palestine)