UNESCO grants Palestinians full membership
Updated: 2011-11-01 09:37
PARIS - The United Nations' cultural agency granted the Palestinians full membership on Monday, a step forward in their long-running efforts to achieve recognition before the world as an independent state.
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) became the first UN agency to welcome the Palestinians as a full member since President Mahmoud Abbas applied for full membership of the United Nations on Sept 23.
A huge cheer erupted in UNESCO's General Assembly after the vote, which marks a symbolic victory for Palestinians in the complex diplomacy that surrounds their collective status and relations with foreign powers.
"Today's victory at UNESCO is the beginning of a road that is difficult, but will lead to the freedom of our land and people from occupation," Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said. "Palestine has the right to a place on the map."
Israel called the vote a "tragedy" and the decision damaged relations between UNESCO and the United States, an ally of Israel that provides about 22 percent of the body's funding, or some $70 million.
Legislation stipulates that the US can cut off funding to any United Nations agency that accepts Palestinians as a member.
The White House said the vote was "premature" and would not aid peace and the US ambassador to the United Nations said UNESCO would suffer.
"Today's vote to grant Palestinian membership in UNESCO is no substitute for direct negotiations, but it is deeply damaging to UNESCO," said Ambassador Susan Rice.
UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova, who previously pleaded for Washington not to withdraw support, told delegates funding may be jeopardised.
"I believe it is the responsibility of all of us to make sure that UNESCO does not suffer unduly... We need each and every member of this organisation to be fully engaged," she added.
The Palestinians got backing from two thirds of UNESCO's members to become its 195th member. Of 173 countries that voted from a possible 185, 107 voted in favour, 14 voted against, 52 abstained and 12 were absent. Abstentions did not count toward the final tally.