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Palestine joins UNESCO as full member

Oct. 31, 2011 2:36 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 2, 2011 11:55 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The UN's cultural agency voted to admit Palestine as a full member on Monday, weeks before the Security Council is due to report on Palestine's bid for full membership of the United Nations.

Palestine overcame US and Israeli opposition to join the cultural body, with UNESCO saying that 107 member states voted in favor, 14 states voted against, with 52 abstentions.

The resolution needed 81 votes to pass, as abstentions are not counted, UNESCO said.

The United States, Canada, Germany and Holland voted against Palestinian membership. Brazil, Russia, China, India, South Africa and France voted in favour. Britain and Italy abstained.

The vote highlighted divisions over foreign policy within the European Union, some of whose 27 members voted for and some against Palestinian membership.

Austrian UNESCO ambassador Ursula Plassnik, whose country voted in favor, said she regretted the European Union could not arrive at a common position on the Palestinian issue.

The Israeli representative called the vote a "tragedy" for UNESCO.

"This resolution is a tragedy for UNESCO...UNESCO deals in science and not science fiction and nevertheless (UNESCO) adopted the science fiction reality," said Nimrod Barkan, Israel's ambassador to UNESCO.

Palestinian officials hope success at UNESCO will boost their bid for admission as a member state at the United Nations, a proposal the Security Council is due to decide on Nov. 11.

"This success, if it is realized, and with this large number of votes, will give a great boost to the efforts that we are making to get the required vote in the United Nations," al-Malki told Voice of Palestine radio on Sunday.

Before Monday's vote, US Undersecretary for Education Martha Kanter told UNESCO's general assembly that the vote was "counterproductive" and "premature."

Israel and the US both opposed the bid, and also oppose the admission of Palestine to the United Nations, which the US has vowed to veto at the Security Council.

While US lack veto power at the cultural agency under US law, the admission of Palestine as a full UNESCO member would trigger a cutoff in US funding which accounts for 22 percent of the agency's funding.

"The action today will complicate our ability to support UNESCO," David T. Killion, US ambassador to UNESCO, told journalists after the vote.

"The US has been clear for the need of a two-state resolution, but the only path is through direct negotiations and there are no shortcuts, and initiatives like today are counterproductive."

Israel said the move would harm negotiations, while making little difference to Palestinian statehood.

"This is a unilateral Palestinian maneuver which will bring no change on the ground but further removes the possibility for a peace agreement," Israel's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"This decision will not turn the Palestinian Authority into an actual state yet places unnecessary burdens on the route to renewing negotiations."

The statement warned Israel will examine further moves affecting its cooperation with UNESCO, Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

While Washington and Israel say diplomatic moves at the UN undermine prospects for a return to negotiations, Palestinian leaders insist they do not rule out a return to talks, noting though that they have little to show for over 20 years of discussions.

Reuters and AFP contributed to this report
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