Palestinians Nearing UNESCO Membership

Posted October 5th, 2011 at 6:20 pm (UTC-5)
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Palestinians have moved one step closer to full membership in the United Nations cultural agency, as its board decided to let 193 member countries vote on admission later this month.

The latest move in the Palestinians' bid for statehood recognition drew swift U.S. and Israeli condemnation and a cool response from France. But the Paris-based U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's board voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to send the request to its general members, two-thirds of whom must approve the bid.

With Mideast peace talks stalled and efforts to get Palestine recognized at the U.N. inching along, Palestinian diplomats are pursuing other, potentially faster routes toward getting the world community to consider their territories a nation.

The Palestinians are also seeking to join the World Trade Organization and won partnership status this week from the Council of Europe, the European Union's main human-rights body.

Palestinians have sought UNESCO membership before, to no avail. The question is highly divisive and American lawmakers are calling for a cutoff of U.S. funds to UNESCO if the Palestinian effort succeeds.

In fact, Washington is required by U.S. law to withhold funding for the agency if it were to accept the Palestinians as a member. The State Department says the United States pays 22 percent of UNESCO's dues.

The U.S. withdrew from the agency in 1984 to protest a resolution adopted years earlier that had equated Zionism with racism and did not rejoin for nearly 20 years.

France, which has advocated Palestinian observer status at the United Nations, said UNESCO is not the place to further the case for statehood and called for a return to peace negotiations.

Israeli diplomats are trying to persuade leading governments “not to politicize UNESCO,” saying a minority group is “hijacking” the organization for other purposes.