United States withdraws from UNESCO citing Palestinian Tensions

UNESCO and Jerusalem

The United States plans to withdraw from UNESCO, the U.N.'s cultural and educational agency, diplomats said on Thursday, dealing a further blow to an organization hobbled by regional rivalries and a lack of funds.

In a statement, the State Department said it notified UNESCO director Irina Bokova on Thursday of the decision.

UNESCO is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions around the world.

The withdrawal, which could be announced as early as next week, comes after many months of the U.S. condemning numerous rulings by the United Nations body which have favoured Palestinian claims to sites in the Israeli-occupied territories.

The decision will come into force on December 31, 2018.

It is not the first time the US has withdrawn. The United States suspended its UNESCO funding in 2011 over its vote to include Palestine as a member, and now owes about $550 million in back payments.

The officials, who were not authorized to be publicly named discussing the issue, said U.S.is notably angry over UNESCO resolutions denying Jewish connections to holy sites and references to Israel as an occupying power.

"This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects USA concerns with mounting arrears at Unesco, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at Unesco", the department said, adding that the United States would seek to "remain engaged ... as a non-member observer state in order to contribute U.S. views, perspectives and expertise". The move was announced by Heather Nauert, spokesperson of the state department.

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