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UNESCO grants Palestinians full membership

October 31, 2011 |  7:44 am

Abbas
REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- UNESCO voted overwhelmingly Monday to accept the Palestinian Authority as a member, setting the cultural agency on a confrontational path with the U.S. due to American law that prohibits funding of U.N. entities that grant state status to Palestinians.

If U.S. funding is halted as expected, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization stands to lose about 20% of its annual budget, or $70 million. Officials said the loss of American funds would lead to cutbacks in programs and staffing.

Palestinians began pushing for membership in UNESCO earlier this month as part of its campaign to win international statehood recognition following the collapse of peace talks with Israel. The UNESCO vote will likely serve as an important morale booster, but is largely symbolic.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, described the vote as “a victory” and said that “it indicates which way the vote would go when Palestine’s application for full U.N. membership comes up.”

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said: “The Palestinians' actions at UNESCO ... are a negative response to Israel's and the international community's efforts to promote the peace process.”

Palestinian officials described the UNESCO bid as a dress rehearsal for their larger push to gain full membership in the United Nations, which could come up for a vote in the Security Council in early November.

Palestinians have also talked about seeking membership in other international bodies, such as the World Trade Organization and International Criminal Court.

The Palestinians' pursuit of full U.N. membership is unlikely to succeed because the Obama administration has threatened to veto their application in the Security Council.

Since there is no veto power in UNESCO, the Palestinians' application was approved by a vote of 107 in favor, 52 abstentions and 14 against, including the U.S. U.S. officials called UNESCO's acceptance premature and lobbied hard with several European nations to delay the vote.

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-- Edmund Sanders and Maher Abukhater

Photo: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas returns to the West Bank town of Ramallah on Sept. 25 after submitting the Palestinians' bid for statehood at the United Nations. Credit: Jim Hollander / EPA

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