Yesterday the membership of UNESCO voted to grant Palestine full membership, triggering a U.S. decision to cut funding to the organization. The vote is important not just for the future of UNESCO but also because it reveals how states are likely to vote on the bigger issue of UN membership and Palestinian membership in other treaty organizations, such as the International Criminal Court.
The graph below (click to enlarge) shows how countries voted on the UNESCO question by their overall record on UN votes on Palestine (Security Council members are depicted by red crosses). I explained the methodology in an earlier post but the basic idea is that the further to the right a country is on the horizontal axis, the more favorable to Israel was its voting behavior in the UN General Assembly. The model expected all countries to the right of Australia to vote no on Palestinian membership. The fact that Australia also voted no is not a big surprise as it is pretty close to the cutting line (i.e. its actual behavior is not that different from its expected behavior). Yet, there are also notable and important surprises.
The unexpected no-votes by some small island nations can perhaps be attributed to the fact that these votes are generally cheapest, although it seems like Nauru wasn’t offered the correct package. More consequential is the divided EU vote. The EU had forged a common position on UNGA votes of Palestine. I predicted earlier that this common position would not hold on the more consequential matter of Palestinian membership. There are both geo-political and domestic reasons why countries may opt in different directions. For example, France has established credentials with Arab countries due to its active role in Libya. This has been very popular domestically. A yes-vote in defiance of the U.S. further establishes these credentials. Nevertheless, it would seem that in most EU countries the domestic politics would have pointed to a yes-vote. Hypotheses are appreciated to more systematically explain why different EU countries went different ways.
Second, there is a sizeable group of countries that abstained even though their past record would have suggested a yes-vote. It does seem like this includes fairly large numbers of countries that are small and relatively dependent on U.S. aid. That is obviously a hypothesis that could be investigated further (and I may do so if I find some time).
Third, based on this vote, the U.S. will have to utilize its veto if it came to a UN Security Council vote. Nine UNSC members voted in favor (which is what is needed). Moreover, based on this vote, it does not seem like the UK is willing to share the potential cost of utilizing the veto with the United States. On the other hand, if the US were able to persuade France to abstain on the Security Council vote, the vote would swing. Expect this to be a somewhat big issue in weeks to come
Edit: The vote tally can be found here.