Palestinians moved a step closer to full membership in the UN cultural agency on Wednesday after its board decided to let 193 member states vote on the issue later this month, the latest stage in a Palestinian campaign for statehood recognition.
Forty representatives of the 58-member board voted in favour of a draft resolution, with four voting against and 14 abstaining, a source at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation told Reuters.
It will now be submitted for a vote at UNESCO's General Conference, which runs from October 25 to November 10 and involves all 193 members of the Paris-based organisation.
"At present the resolution being discussed concerns submitting membership of Palestine to UNESCO's General Conference, which will then be the organ that decides whether Palestine is admitted or not," the source said.
Diplomats say Palestinian officials requested membership in the UN cultural agency this week, as part of a broader push for international recognition, pursued despite opposition from the United States and Israel.
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas took the Palestinians' quest for independence to UN headquarters last month.
UN Security Council (Photo: AFP)
With peace talks stalled and landmark efforts to get Palestine recognized at the United Nations inching along a labyrinthine path, Palestinian diplomats are pursuing other, potentially faster avenues toward getting the world to consider their territories a nation.
One is in Paris-based UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, where full membership requires approval of a two-thirds majority in the 193-nation body.
- For full coverage of PA's UN statehood campaign click here
The Palestinians are also seeking a foothold in the World Trade Organization and won partnership status this week in the Council of Europe, the continent's leading human rights body.
None of this will solve the conflicts with Israel but it may up the pressure at UN headquarters and weigh on fresh efforts to resuscitate peace talks.
Wednesday's request to UNESCO's executive board is being seen as a test case indicating the breadth of support for the Palestinian push.
The Palestinian delegation, which has had observer status at UNESCO since 1974, is expected to present a draft resolution Wednesday for full membership to the body's executive board, according to diplomats at UNESCO.
The 58-member board can then recommend that the request go to a vote at UNESCO's General Conference, which runs October 25 to November 10 and includes all 193 member states.
'UNESCO bid could undermine broader UN discussions'
The Palestinians have sought UNESCO membership before, to no avail. This year, UNESCO diplomats said, they are using a different method for the request, via a draft resolution.
Opponents say the UNESCO bid could undermine the broader UN discussions. Israeli diplomats are trying to persuade leading governments "not to politicize UNESCO and leave this subject to New York," Israel's ambassador to UNESCO, Nimrod Barkan, said.
"The tragedy is that this hampers UNESCO from doing its real job," he said, noting that the agency's board has taken up five Israel-related issues in recent days and none regarding Syria or Libya. "A relatively small minority is hijacking the organization for other purposes," he said.
Ismail Tilawi, the representative of UNESCO in the Palestinian territories, says that since the formation of the Palestinian Authority in the mid-1990s, a request for Palestinian membership has been on the agenda of every UNESCO General Conference, which convenes every two years.
The chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the US House of Representatives, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, called for a cutoff of US funds to UNESCO if the Palestinian effort succeeds this time.
"Feeling that their efforts at the UN Security Council will fail, the Palestinian leadership is shopping around the UN system for recognition," Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, said in a statement.
"It is deeply disappointing to see UNESCO, which has reformed itself in recent years, poised to support this dangerous Palestinian scheme. The US must strongly oppose this move."
France is worried the Palestinian bid at UNESCO will derail efforts to resuscitate peace talks.
UNESCO is "not the appropriate place" and its meeting later this month "is not the right moment" to seek recognition, a French diplomat said. The diplomat was not authorized to be named speaking about closed-door UNESCO discussions.
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