No 321 Posted by fw, November 1, 2011
“Well, it’s extraordinary to watch Matt Lee’s pressure on Victoria Nuland, when she had no answer. This notion that somehow the U.S. is working so hard behind the scenes or in front of the curtain, or wherever they think they’re working, to, quote, “improve the environment,” when the U.S. has done nothing to stop the actual destruction of the, quote, “environment,” when Israel has built increasing numbers of settlements. The settlement construction, as Matt Lee even said in that press conference, has consistently and continues to destroy the prospect of a Palestinian state. And yet, the U.S. has, at most, made mild statements of concern. “We are concerned about these acts that are not helpful.” And then they move on. . . . What it [the vote to admit Palestine to UNESCO] undermines is the illusion, the false illusion, that the U.S.-backed so-called peace process of 20 years is somehow moving towards the possibility of a just, lasting and permanent solution to this conflict.” —Phyllis Bennis in an interview aired on Democracy Now today
What a rare treat it was to watch Associated press reporter, Matthew Lee, vigorously challenge U.S. State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland over yesterday’s vote to admit Palestine as a member state of UNESCO.
Here’s a short video of the Lee-Nuland confrontation followed by a transcript, partly my own and partly from Democracy Now’s broadcast today – U.S. Pulls All Funding for UNESCO After Sweeping Vote to Support Palestinian Membership. The video was uploaded to You Tube on October 31, 2011 by ReutersVideo
Victoria Nuland (VN) – Today’s vote by the member states of UNESCO to admit Palestine as a member is regrettable, premature and undermines our shared goal of accomplishing a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. The United States remains steadfast in its support for the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state. But such a state can only be realized through direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The Unites States also remains strongly committed to robust multilateral engagement across the UN system. However, Palestinian membership as a state in UNESCO triggers longstanding legislative restrictions which will compel the United States to refrain from making contributions to UNSCO. U.S. engagement with UNESCO serves a wide range of our national interests on education, science, culture and communications issues. The United States will maintain its membership in and commitment to UNESCO and we will consult with Congress to ensure that U.S. interests and influence are preserved.
Matthew Lee (ML) – Does that mean that you have stopped effectively today contributing to UNESCO?
VN – It does.
ML – It does.
VN – We were to have made a $60 million payment to UNESCO in November and we will not be making that payment.
ML – Sorry, 60 million?
VN – 60 million.
ML – And that is what – part of the tranche of the total of 80?
VN – Correct.
ML – So this is not particularly a banner day for US diplomacy. If you count the abstentions, you had 159 countries did not vote the way you did. Only 13 did. That would seem to suggest that these countries don’t agree with you. This is a big problem. Those countries included the French – France. They included numerous members of the Security Council. What happens to them now that you’re punishing UNESCO. What happens to these countries that voted “in this regrettable way that is going to undermine peace process?” [The sarcasm is palpable].
VN – [Avoids giving a direct answer] Well those countries obviously made their own national decisions on this vote. We disagree with them. We made clear that we disagreed with them before the vote. We made clear that we disagreed with them after the vote. We also made clear here today that we want to continue our relationship with UNESCO but as we said before this vote, and as we have had to say today, legislative restrictions compel us to withhold our funding now. And that will have an impact on UNESCO.
ML – Going back to what you said in your opening, you said that this was — “is regrettable, premature, and undermines our shared goal.” Whose shared goal? Who shares this goal of the only 13 other countries that voted with you?
VN – Countries all over the international system share the goal of a Palestinian state in secure borders.
ML – Why would they possibly do something — well, how could they possibly do something that you say is so horrible and detrimental to that process? How can they—how can you still count them—count on them as sharing this goal?
VN – You’ll have to speak to them about why they made the decision that they made. We considered that this was, as I said, regrettable, premature, and undermines the prospect of getting where we want to go. And that’s what we’re concerned about.
ML – OK. And how does it undermine — exactly how does it undermine the prospect of where you want to go?
VN – The concern is that it creates tensions when all of us should be concerting our efforts to get the parties back to the table.
ML – OK, the only tensions that it creates — the only thing it does is it upsets Israel, and it triggers this law that you said — that will require you to stop funding UNESCO. Is there anything else? There’s nothing that changes on the ground, is there?
VN – Our concern is that this could exacerbate the environment, which we are trying to work through so that the parties will get back to the table.
ML – [Presses for a direct answer] 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 was a body that the U.S. was so unconcerned about for many years that it just wasn’t even a member.
VN – [Continues to avoid the question] Well, I think you know that this administration is committed to UNESCO, rejoined UNESCO—
ML – Right.
VN – wants to see UNESCO’s work go forward—
ML – [Tenaciously pressures Nuland] Well, actually, it was the last administration that rejoined UNESCO, not this one. But I need—I need to have some kind of clarity on how this undermines the peace process, other than the fact that it upsets Israel.
VN – Again, we are trying to get both of these parties back to the table. That’s what we’ve been doing all along. That was the basis for the President’s speech in May, basis of the diplomacy that the Quartet did through the summer, the basis of the statement that the Quartet came out with in September. 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.
ML – Since the talks broke off last September until today, how many times have they met together, with all your effort?
VN – How many times have the parties met?
ML – Yes.
VN – [Concedes game and match to Matt Lee] I think you know the answer to that question.
ML – Correct.
Phyllis Bennis, a guest today on Democracy Now, was invited to comment on the exchange between Lee and Nuland. Here’s what she had to say —
Well, it’s extraordinary to watch Matt Lee’s pressure on Victoria Nuland, when she had no answer. This notion that somehow the U.S. is working so hard behind the scenes or in front of the curtain, or wherever they think they’re working, to, quote, “improve the environment,” when the U.S. has done nothing to stop the actual destruction of the, quote, “environment,” when Israel has built increasing numbers of settlements. The settlement construction, as Matt Lee even said in that press conference, has consistently and continues to destroy the prospect of a Palestinian state. And yet, the U.S. has, at most, made mild statements of concern. “We are concerned about these acts that are not helpful.” And then they move on.
When there is a Palestinian move, which is broadly supported across the world, including by a wide range of U.S. allies, like France, you have a massive consequence that these old laws, one passed by George Bush, Sr., under the administration of George Bush, Sr., and signed by him, the other signed off by President Clinton in 1994, both of which require really drastic consequences, not particularly that harm the Palestinians themselves, but that harm the U.S. role in the world, that harm the United Nations. This is going to do great harm to UNESCO and its work in protecting the World Heritage sites, its work in distributing information that shares science across the world, its work that protects indigenous languages. Those are the things that we will see being undermined by this U.S. response. There is nothing here that undermines the possibility of any sort of legitimate peace process. What it undermines is the illusion, the false illusion, that the U.S.-backed so-called peace process of 20 years is somehow moving towards the possibility of a just, lasting and permanent solution to this conflict.