PA gains Arab backing for UNESCO membership request

Palestinians claim they have enough votes to gain acceptance into UN organization; Foreign Ministry: It would be a "tragedy" if bid passes.

UNESCO logo 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of UNESCO)
UNESCO logo 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of UNESCO)
The Arab League decided on Sunday to pursue its efforts to back the Palestinian request for membership in the United Nations and the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The league entrusted a special committee of experts to study the political and legal alternatives should the Palestinian request be turned down, according to a statement issued by the Arab League representatives after a meeting in Doha, Qatar.
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The Arab League said its members would intensify contacts with the UN secretary-general and members of the Security Council and UNESCO to secure their support for the Palestinian statehood bid.
The statement said the Arab League also called on the Quartet to hold Israel accountable for continued construction in the settlements and its “anti-peace policies.”
The representatives also strongly condemned Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s recent remarks against Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Lieberman last week called Abbas a big obstacle to peace in the Middle East.
The Arab League meeting was chaired by Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasem al-Thani and was attended by Abbas and foreign ministers of several Arab countries.
Earlier, Abbas briefed the Arab representatives on the outcome of his talks with a number of world leaders regarding the statehood bid.
Abbas said he was determined to go ahead with his efforts to gain Palestinian membership in the Security Council and UNESCO, saying this was a case of self-determination for the Palestinians.
But while it is considered unlikely that the Palestinians would succeed in their bid to the Security Council to become the 194th member of the United Nations, it remains very possible that they could become the newest member of UNESCO as early as Monday.
It is expected that UNESCO could vote on their bid during its general conference in Paris. A two-thirds majority is needed for membership approval.
Palestinians expect to win full membership in UNESCO, Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said on Sunday.
UNESCO is the first UN agency the Palestinians have sought to join as a full member since PA President Mahmoud Abbas applied for full membership of the United Nations on September 23.
“I expect that the voting will happen and that Palestine will get the number of votes required for membership,” Maliki told Reuters.
“We have enough votes to get over the two-thirds barrier.”
Palestinians view UNESCO membership as a moral victory, which will assist them in their bid for full UN membership.
Israel has lobbied hard against the Palestinians’ UNESCO bid, which comes as the Quartet is trying to jump-start stalled negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Paul Hirschson, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that as of Sunday night, it was unclear if the vote would actually occur on Monday. It remained possible that the Palestinians would not have enough support because only those countries present can vote.
Abstentions do not count, and so for approval the Palestinians need two-thirds of those present in the room to support their UNESCO membership bid, he said.
It would be a “tragedy” if it passes, he said.
“It won’t turn the Palestinians into a state and it won’t change their reality on the ground,” Hirschson said.
UNESCO membership would encourage the Palestinians to avoid negotiations and would perpetuate the conflict, he said.
Hirschson added that he hoped the international community understood and voted against the Palestinian UNESCO bid.