Palestinians Granted Full UNESCO Membership

Posted October 31st, 2011 at 10:55 am (UTC-5)
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The United Nations cultural agency has accepted the Palestinian bid for full membership, a move that could threaten U.S. funding for the international organization.

Monday's action by the Paris-based UNESCO boosts the Palestinian effort for international recognition as an independent state. Applause broke out after delegates approved membership by a vote of 107 to 14, with 52 abstentions.

France voted for the motion, along with almost all Arab, African, Latin American and Asian nations, including China and India. Israel, the United States, Canada and Germany voted against. Japan and Britain abstained. A two-thirds vote was required by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's 193 members.

The Palestinian success in Paris could be costly for UNESCO. U.S. law prohibits Washington from funding any U.N.-affiliated body that accepts Palestinian membership. Washington currently is UNESCO's biggest funding source, supplying 22 percent of the agency's budget.

The U.S. representative to UNESCO called the vote “premature,” saying it would “complicate” American efforts to support the agency.

Israel's foreign ministry described the move as a “unilateral Palestinian maneuver” that would further harm efforts to secure a peace agreement. The ministry thanked countries that opposed the measure and said it was “disappointing” that the European Union could not reach a unified position to prevent the decision.

UNESCO is the first U.N. agency the Palestinians have sought to join since President Mahmoud Abbas applied last month for full recognition of Palestinian statehood by the U.N. General Assembly.

The Palestinian bid had triggered a frantic lobbying effort by American diplomats asking UNESCO members to reject the application. Israel also opposed adding the Palestinians to the ranks of UNESCO members.

Palestinian officials say they will call on UNESCO to recognize key monuments in the occupied Palestinian territories as world heritage sites. These include the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, built over the place where many Christians say Jesus is believed to have been born.

Meanwhile, Israel says it has carried out an overnight airstrike in the Gaza Strip against militants who fired rockets at Israel.

The attacks came just hours after Islamic Jihad and other radical Palestinian groups in Gaza had announced they would accept an Egyptian-mediated truce to end days of deadly violence – as long as Israel reciprocated.

On Saturday, Israel's airstrikes killed nine Islamic Jihad members in Gaza The militant group fired about 20 rockets into southern Israel Saturday, killing one Israeli civilian.

Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, has avoided direct involvement in the latest round of fighting, but Hamas officials have not criticized their more radical rivals for attacking Israel.