Palestine becomes Unesco member


Unesco today stood defiant in the face of threats to its funding by awarding Palestine full membership of the body in a largely symbolic result hailed by the Palestinians as a crucial victory as they vie for full UN membership.

There were loud cheers as the voting results came in: 107 in favour, 14 against and 52 abstentions. The vote would, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told delegates in Paris after the result, "erase a tiny part of the injustice done to the Palestinian people."

But it was a risky gambit that looks like having harsh consequences for the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural body, which now faces losing at least 22 per cent – or $70m– of its funding from the United States, which is obliged by a two decades-old law to withdraw support from any body that grants the Palestine Liberation Organisation the standing of a state.

The vote would, said David Killion, US ambassador to Unesco, "complicate" Washington’s efforts to support the body, but insisted that the US remained "deeply committed" to the institution and would seek alternative ways to fund it.

Israel, which voted against the motion, accused the Palestinians of taking a counter-productive step that will change nothing on the ground, while moving a peace agreement further out of reach.

"Unesco deals in science, not science fiction," said Nimrod Barkan, Israel's ambassador to Unesco. "They forced on Unesco a political subject out of its competence. They have forced a drastic cut in contributions to the organisation."

But the Palestinians viewed the move as a measure of international support and a moral victory for their campaign to internationalise the conflict amid a prevailing domestic view that peace negotiations have achieved little or nothing for the Palestinians in nearly 20 years of talks.

Israel and the Americans have insisted that the only way to achieve an independent state is through face-to-face negotiations with Israel, and they have both lobbied vigorously against a parallel Palestinian effort to seek full membership of the UN, a bid that is almost certainly doomed in light of Washington's insistence that it will veto the move.

But today’s vote, seen by some as a trial run for the real thing, faced no such obstacles. The Palestinian bid had stirred powerful emotions, and it was largely thanks to the Arab states that the vote went ahead as scheduled despite US and European efforts to delay it. One delegate cried “Long Live Palestine!” in French after the result was announced.

Besides Israel, the US, Canada and Germany all voted against, while Britain and Japan abstained. France, Russia and China voted yes.

The full implications of the US threat to halt funding remain unclear. Unesco, which protects world heritage sites and promotes literacy programmes, has a projected two-year budget of $643m for 2010-2011. If the US contribution for this period is withheld – the US normally pays towards the end of the two-year period - this would force almost immediate cutbacks.

But Unesco, sometimes accused of taking an anti-Israel stance, has survived without US funding in the past. The US withdrew from the body under President Ronald Reagan in 1984 over what it described as “growing disparity between US foreign policy and Unesco goals” only to rejoin two decades later under President George W Bush. 

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Freight Forward Senior Operator

£22000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This logistics firm are looking...

Recruitment Genius: Lead Marketing Specialist

£34500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A lead marketing specialist is required ...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician - 2nd / 3rd Line

£26000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Technician is req...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map