Palestinians seek UNESCO vote despite US opposition

Bid for full UN seat is destined to fail due to Washington's veto; UNESCO is one of several organizations Palestinians can join regardless.

October 26, 2011 14:36
3 minute read.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations

PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Chip East)


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RAMALLAH - The Palestinians will seek a vote on their bid for full membership of UNESCO on Oct. 30, Foreign Minister Riyal al-Malki said on Wednesday, despite what he called US threats to pull funding from the UN cultural agency.

The initiative is part of a Palestinian push, opposed by the United States, for recognition as a state in the UN system -- a move the Palestinians hope will strengthen their standing vis-à-vis Israel.

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UNESCO is the first UN agency the Palestinians have sought to join as a full member since applying for full membership of the United Nations on Sept. 23. The bid for a full UN seat, which can be granted only by the Security Council, is destined to fail because of opposition by Washington, which has a veto in the forum.

But UNESCO is one agency the Palestinians can join as a full member regardless of their wider UN status.

Malki said a Palestinian representative would address UNESCO's General Conference on Sunday and the Palestinians were aiming for a vote the same day.

"We are trying with all effort, through our ambassador in UNESCO, to have a vote on our request for membership of UNESCO at the time that we give the speech," he said in an interview with Voice of Palestine radio broadcast on Wednesday.

"We hope that we will succeed in this effort despite our recognition of great pressure which the United States of America is leading inside UNESCO," Malki said.

He said there were "great threats ... that if Palestine's membership of UNESCO is approved, the United States will stop its assistance to that organization".

Automatic cutoff

A vote in favor of Palestinian membership would trigger an automatic cutoff in US funding to the agency under US law. The United States provides 22 percent of UNESCO's funding.

The UNESCO board decided on Oct. 6 to allow the 193 member states to vote on the Palestinians' application for full admission -- a bid signaling new Palestinian determination to ignore pressure from Washington, one of the Palestinian Authority's main donors.

The United States views the Palestinian quest for recognition as a state in the UN system as a unilateral move unhelpful to its efforts to revive peace negotiations with Israel, which it says are the only way forward.

The Palestinians say peace talks with Israel, which also opposes the Palestinian UN initiative, have brought them no closer to their goal of independence in the two decades since the negotiations first got under way.

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The prospect of the Palestinians seeking full membership of other UN agencies heavily funded by the United States could threaten US financial support for bodies including the World Health Organization.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Reuters in an Oct. 12 interview she had made the case to US lawmakers that the administration should have the flexibility to decide whether or not to cut off such agencies if they take in the Palestinians.

Speaking about the UNESCO membership bid, Malki said the United States wanted to make it seem like the Palestinians would be to blame for any financial pain.

"They want to make Palestine responsible for all these results, and therefore, matters will not be easy in UNESCO in the coming two days, but despite that, we will continue in our effort," he said.

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