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UN culture agency grants Palestinians full membership

UNESCO member states voted overwhelmingly in favour of Palestinian membership of the UN's cultural agency Monday. The Israeli foreign ministry rejected the decision, saying it would stymie a peace agreement in the region.


AFP - Israel warned that a UNESCO decision on Monday to grant the Palestinians full membership would harm efforts to secure a peace agreement between the two sides.

"Israel rejects the decision of the General Assembly of UNESCO of the 31st October accepting Palestine as a member state of the organisation," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

"This is a unilateral Palestinian manoeuvre which will bring no change on the ground but further removes the possibility for a peace agreement."

The membership resolution, which was put to UNESCO's 193-member general assembly, passed by 107 votes in favour, with 14 against and 52 abstentions, in what constitutes a major symbolic victory on the road to securing full UN membership.

Both Israel and the United States are adamantly opposed to UNESCO's granting the Palestinians membership, which comes just a month after the Palestinians applied for full state membership at the United Nations.

"This decision will not turn the Palestinian Authority into an actual state yet it places unnecessary burdens on the route to renewing negotiations," the ministry said, stressing that the only route to diplomatic progress was through direct negotiations.

"The Palestinian move at UNESCO, as with similar such steps with other UN bodies, is tantamount to a rejection of the international community’s efforts to advance the peace process," it said.

Israeli ambassador to UNESCO, Nimrod Barkan. 31/10/2011

Shortly before the vote, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned that Israel would consider "cutting all ties with the Palestinian Authority" if they were accepted into the UN body.

The ministry also said it was "disappointing" that the European Union had not managed to reach a "unified position" to prevent the decision.

The vote looks set to deprive the UN cultural body of nearly a quarter of its annual funding because under a US law passed in the 1990s, Washington cannot fund any UN body which accepts Palestine as a full member.

UNESCO currently receives an annual $70 million from Washington -- or 22 percent of its budget.

Winning membership in the UN's educational, scientific and cultural organisation is not only a diplomatic feather in Palestine's cap -- it will allow them to apply to classify its monuments as World Heritage Sites at a time when the heritage of much of the Holy Land is under dispute.

The vote comes five weeks after Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas submitted a historic request for full state membership at the United Nations, which is due to be debated by the Security Council on November 11.

Washington has vowed to veto the membership bid when it comes up for a vote, in a move which many fear could spark a major anti-US backlash in the Arab and Muslim world at a time of unprecedented political upheaval.


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