UNESCO logo 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy of UNESCO)
The Palestinians are unlikely, because of the US veto on the Security Council,
to gain full admittance as a state in the UN, yet at least one of its agencies –
the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – took a step on
Wednesday toward granting the Palestinians full membership.
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representatives of the 58-member UNESCO board voted in favor of letting the 193
member states vote on whether to admit the Palestinians as a member later this
month at the Paris-based organization’s General Conference that runs from
October 25 to November 10. The US, Germany, Latvia and Romania voted against,
and 14 countries abstained.
The Foreign Ministry issued a response
condemning the move, saying that “the correct and only way to progress the peace
process with the Palestinians is through direct, unconditional
“The Palestinians’ actions at UNESCO negate both the
bilateral negotiations route and the Quartet’s proposal for continuing the
diplomatic process,” the statement said. “Their actions are a negative response
to Israel’s and the international community’s efforts to promote the peace
The statement said UNESCO’s responsibilities are to address
culture, science and education.
“UNESCO has remained silent in the face
of significant change across the Middle East yet has found time during its
current meeting to adopt six decisions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,”
the statement said.
“The decision to grant the Palestinians membership of
UNESCO will not advance their desire for an independent state
The statement thanked those countries who voted against. The
14 countries that abstained were France, Greece, Spain, Italy, Japan, Poland,
Monaco, St. Lucia, Barbados, Slovakia, Korea, The Ivory Coast, Belgium and
Significantly, all European countries on the executive board –
with the exception of Russia and Belarus – either voted against the measure or
The PA’s move at UNESCO is an attempt to ramp up pressure on
the UN by looking for alternative institutions that may recognize their
sought-after statehood status.
On Tuesday, it won partnership status from
the Council of Europe, the EU’s main human rights body.
have had observer status at UNESCO since 1974. To gain full membership,
so-called “states” that are not members of the United Nations may be admitted to
UNESCO with a two-thirds majority of the General Conference. It was not clear
whether “Palestine” would need to be a recognized state for its UNESCO bid to
This was not the first time the Palestinians have applied for
membership to UNESCO, and to other UN organizations, such as the World Health
Organization and the World Tourism Organization.
After the PLO declared
statehood in the late 1988, the Palestinians applied to those three
organizations for membership. Those bids failed, however, when then-US secretary
of state James Baker issued a statement saying he would recommend to
then-president George H.W. Bush to cut off all contributions to any UN agency
that upgraded the status of the PLO.
So far the PA’s move at UNESCO has
not triggered any similar threat from the Obama administration, though it has
sparked anger in Congress, with the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs
Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), calling for a cutoff of US
funding to UNESCO if the Palestinian request is approved.
their efforts at the UN Security Council will fail, the Palestinian leadership
is shopping around the UN system for recognition,” Ros-Lehtinen
“This attempt to rig the process needs to be stopped dead in its
tracks. Our contributions are our strongest leverage at the UN, and should be
used to stand up for our interests and allies and stop this dangerous
France, which has urged the United Nations to grant
the Palestinians the status of observer state – like the Vatican – in the
General Assembly, said UNESCO was not the right forum to seek
“The priority is to revive negotiations,” Foreign Ministry
spokesman Bernard Valero said. “We consider that UNESCO is not the appropriate
place and the General Conference is not the right moment.”