News / Middle East

UNESCO Grants Palestinians Full Membership

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki (C) stands between Organization of Islamic Cooperation Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu (L) and Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO Elias Sanbar (R) during the 36th session of UNESCO's General Conference in P
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki (C) stands between Organization of Islamic Cooperation Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu (L) and Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO Elias Sanbar (R) during the 36th session of UNESCO's General Conference in P
Scott Bobb

The Israeli government said Monday's vote by the United Nations cultural agency to accept the Palestinians' bid as a full member would harm efforts to revive Arab-Israeli peace talks.

A foreign ministry statement called UNESCO's action in Paris a "unilateral Palestinian maneuver" that further removed the possibility for a peace agreement.

Palestinian leaders welcomed the vote, calling it a historic moment that returns to Palestinians some of their rights.

"This is very good news for history, for culture, for heritage, for identity, for self-dignity," said Mahdi Abdul Hadi, head of Jerusalem's Palestinian Academic Society. "This is very good news for those who believe in the Palestinian cause, that it is time, overdue, to recognize the Palestinian rights."

107 UNESCO delegates voted in favor of the Palestinian bid. Fourteen voted against while 52 abstained.

Some analysts said the vote will boost the Palestinian move for U.N. state membership launched at the General Assembly last month.

However, Hebrew University professor Abraham Diskin said the vote, from a practical point of view, does not help the Palestinian cause.

"What the Palestinians really have to look for is the establishment of a Palestinian state and this is not going to be implemented by the decision of an international organization -- of course not UNESCO, but (not) even the General Assembly," he said.

Palestinians said they will call on UNESCO to recognize key monuments in the Palestinian territories as world heritage sites, such as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Several Western governments said neither Palestinian membership in UNESCO nor proposed membership in the United Nations will help end the conflict. They say only direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis can do this.

In addition, the U.S. government, which provides 22 percent of UNESCO's budget, will be required by a 21-year-old Congressional law to cut off funding for UNESCO.

Political observers say UNESCO admission is likely to boost the popularity of the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. It was dealt a blow two weeks ago by a deal between rival Hamas and the Israeli government to release more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a Hamas-held Israeli soldier.

UNESCO video on the organization's history

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