The United States on Monday froze funding to a United Nations educational body,
after it became the first UN organization to recognize Palestine as an
In a dramatic move that inched the Palestinian
Authority closer to its bid for unilateral statehood, the UN Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) accepted Palestine as the 195th
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A huge cheer erupted in UNESCO’s General
Assembly in Paris as it gave the Palestinians a symbolic victory in their
unilateral statehood battle after 107 nations voted in favor, 14 against, and 52
abstained. The US, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Israel voted against
Palestinian membership. Countries such as Brazil, Russia, China, India, South
Africa, Austria and France voted in favor. Britain and Italy
PA President Mahmoud Abbas thanked all the countries that
supported its UNESCO membership bid.
“This vote is a vote for peace,”
Abbas was quoted by the PA’s news agency, Wafa, as saying.
constitutes an international consensus to support the legitimate national rights
of our people – first and foremost the right to establish an independent
The vote is a “victory for Palestinian independence,” Abbas said.
The entire world, he added, stood with the Palestinians today.
underscored the need to establish a Palestinian state as soon as possible, Abbas
“This vote is not directed against anyone,” he said. “It’s meant to
support freedom and justice.”
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki
said after the vote: “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
Palestine has the right to a place on the
Israel, however, warned that the UNESCO vote harmed ongoing Quartet
efforts to jump-start the peace talks, which have been stalled since October
“The Palestinian move at UNESCO, as with similar such steps with
other UN bodies, is tantamount to a rejection of the international community’s
efforts to advance the peace process,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement
it issued to the press.
It threatened to cut its ties with
“The State of Israel will consider its further steps and ongoing
cooperation with the organization,” the Ministry said.
At the Knesset,
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman sternly said Israel should consider cutting
all ties to the PA.
“My recommendations will be very clear,” the foreign
minister explained at an Israel Beiteinu faction meeting. “We need to weigh
cutting all ties with the Palestinian Authority.
We cannot continue to
accept unilateral measures time after time.”
The Palestinian application
for UNESCO is part of its overall strategy to unilaterally obtain statehood by
seeking UN membership both by appealing to the Security Council, which approves
all such bids, and by separately asking to join UN bodies such as UNESCO and
other international organizations.
The Security Council is expected to
vote on the issue of Palestinian UN membership later this month.
statement issued in Ramallah, the PLO Executive Committee said it hoped the vote
would pave the way for the Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state “on
all the territories that were occupied in 1967.”
The US and Israel have
opposed all such unilateral bids and have argued that statehood should be
achieved through a negotiated peace deal with Israel. Israel has argued that
Palestinians are seeking unilateral statehood as a way to avoid a negotiated
The US has promised to veto the Palestinians membership bid at the
UN Security Council.
On Monday after the UNESCO vote, White House
spokesman Jay Carney complained that the move “distracts us from our shared goal
of direct negotiations that result in a secure Israel and an independent
Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”
spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the UNESCO vote was “regrettable, premature and
undermines our shared goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the
“The United States remains steadfast in its support for the
establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state, but such a
state can only be realized through direct negotiations between the Israelis and
the Palestinians,” continued Nuland.
She condemned the vote as “creating
tensions when all of us should be concerting our efforts to get the parties back
to the table.”
Nuland said that as a result of the vote, the US would not
make a $60 million payment to UNESCO scheduled for later in the
There is a congressional resolution that forbids the US from
financing UN-related organizations that recognize any unilaterally- declared
Palestinian state without a peace deal.
Washington will not, however,
stop its participation in UNESCO, a membership that had already been suspended
once by former US president Ronald Reagan.
The PA called on Arab
countries to compensate UNESCO for the loss of American financial aid in the
wake of the vote.
Muhammad Shtayyeh, a member of the Fatah Central
Committee, also expressed hope that the Arab countries that supported the
Palestinian move at UNESCO would step in to help the international agency
The PLO Executive Committee hailed the UNESCO vote, dubbing
it an “historic event.”
PA negotiator Nabil Sha’ath called the vote a
“victory for Palestinian rights and proof of the international community’s
recognition of our people’s right to an independent state.”
the vote would be added to a series of “political victories achieved by the
Palestinian leadership.” He said the vote highlighted the size of the crisis
facing the Israeli government.
Hamas also welcomed Monday’s vote, saying
it was an “important step toward serving the Palestinian cause and preserving
Palestinian heritage and holy sites in the face of Israeli
Hamas said the vote also “exposed the brutality of the
occupation and the bias of the US administration in favor of the occupation and
its racist policies.”
Reuters contributed to this report.