Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

U.S. Warns UNESCO Not to Grant ‘palestine’ Official Recognition

October 6, 1989
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Bush administration served notice on UNESCO Thursday that granting the Palestine Liberation Organization membership or “enhanced status” would kill any chance of the United States rejoining the agency.

The American position was asserted in a sternly worded letter from John Bolton, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, to Federico Mayor Zaragoza, director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

“The question of an enhanced status for the PLO in UNESCO or PLO ‘rights and privileges’ would create a highly undesirable precedent within the U.N. system and disturb the delicate ongoing process of negotiations aimed at securing peace in the Middle East,” Bolton’s letter said.

It added that such developments “would also virtually foreclose any consideration of U.S. reentry into UNESCO.”

The administration’s position was strongly backed by a bipartisan congressional group.

Five members of the House of Representatives signed a letter of their own to Mayor asserting that they “find it particularly distressing that the PLO application for membership would be given serious consideration.”

The letter was signed by Reps. Gus Yatron (D-Pa.), Lawrence Smith (D-Fla.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Doug Bereuter (R-Neb.) and Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.).

Yatron chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on human rights and international organizations.


The furor erupted because UNESCO’s 51-member executive committee, presently meeting in Paris, is scheduled to vote next Tuesday on the PLO’s application for admission to UNESCO as the “state of Palestine,” with full rights and privileges of a member state.

The executive committee, which serves as UNESCO’s governing board, could recommend acceptance to the General Conference, UNESCO’s equivalent of the U.N. General Assembly, which convenes in Paris from Oct. 17 to Nov. 16.

Or it could recommend “enhanced status,” short of membership, which would still endow the PLO with most privileges of a member state.

Bolton’s letter made clear that such a course was equally objectionable to the United States.

In New York, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations accused UNESCO of attempting “to give legitimacy to the terrorist PLO” by inviting a non-existent “Palestine” to participate in its programs.

Recommended from JTA