The US had threatened to withhold roughly $80m (£50m) in annual funding to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) if it approved Palestinian membership. The United States provides about 22% of Unesco’s funding.
Huge cheers went up in Unesco after delegates approved the membership by 107 votes to 14 with 52 abstentions. Eighty-one votes were needed for approval in a hall with 173 Unesco member delegations present.
“Long live Palestine!” shouted one delegate, in French, at the unusually tense and dramatic meeting of Unesco’s general conference.
While the vote has large symbolic meaning, the issues of borders of an eventual Palestinian state, security troubles and other disputes that have thwarted Middle East peace for decades remain unresolved.
Palestinian officials are seeking full membership in the United Nations, but that effort is still under examination and the US has said it will veto it unless there is a peace deal with Israel. Given that, the Palestinians separately sought membership at Paris-based Unesco and other UN bodies.
Monday’s vote is definitive. The membership formally takes effect when Palestine signs Unesco’s founding charter.
The US ambassador to Unesco, David Killion, said the vote would “complicate” US efforts to support the agency. The United States voted against the measure.
Israel’s ambassador to Unesco, Nimrod Barkan, called the vote a tragedy.
“Unesco deals in science, not science fiction,” he said. “They forced on Unesco a political subject out of its competence. They have forced a drastic cut in contributions to the organisation.”
The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, last week called Unesco’s deliberation “inexplicable”, saying discussion of Palestinian membership of international organisations could not replace negotiations with Israel as a fast track towards Palestinian independence.
- UN cultural agency grants membership to Palestine (msnbc.msn.com)
- UN Cultural Body Weighing Palestinian Membership (abcnews.go.com)
- UNESCO approves Palestinian membership (cbsnews.com)
- Palestinians ‘to make’ Unesco bid – BBC News (news.google.com)
- Palestinians ‘to make’ Unesco bid (bbc.co.uk)
- Unesco Approves Full Membership for Palestinians – New York Times (news.google.com)
- UNESCO to vote on Palestinian membership – CNN (news.google.com)
- Palestine secures seat in UNESCO despite US threats (rt.com)
- Palestinians press for full membership of Unesco (guardian.co.uk)