UN agency recognises Palestine
Published 31/10/2011 | 18:02
Palestine has become a full member of the United Nations' cultural agency Unesco in a historic vote that saw the US halt its funding for the organisation in protest.
America had threatened to chop 80 million dollars in annual funding if Palestinian membership was approved.
The US State Department said the vote triggered a long-standing congressional restriction on funding to UN bodies that recognise Palestine as a state before an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is reached.
The decision is a grand symbolic victory for the Palestinians, but it alone will not make Palestine into a state. The issues of borders for an eventual Palestinian state, security troubles and other disputes that have thwarted Middle East peace for decades remain unresolved.
Huge cheers went up in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation after delegates approved the membership in a vote of 107-14 with 52 abstentions.
Eighty-one votes were needed for approval in a hall with 173 Unesco member delegations present. In a surprise, France voted "yes" - and the room erupted in cheers - while the "no" votes included the United States, Israel, Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany.
"Long live Palestine!" someone shouted in the hall, in French, at the unusually tense and dramatic meeting of Unesco's General Conference.
Even if the vote's impact is not felt right away in the Middle East, it will be at Unesco, which protects historic heritage sites and works to improve world literacy, access to schooling for girls and cultural understanding, but it also has in the past been a forum for anti-Israel sentiment.
Existing US law can bar Washington from funding any UN body that accepts members that do not have the "internationally recognised attributes of statehood." That requirement is generally interpreted to mean UN membership.
Unesco depends heavily on US funding - Washington provides 22% of its budget - but has survived without it in the past: The United States pulled out of Unesco under President Ronald Reagan, rejoining two decades later under President George W. Bush.