Palestinians Aim to Join 16 Other UN Agencies After UNESCO Win

Palestinian Authority and other delegates applauding aftet the General Conference admits "Palestine" as a UNESCO member state in Paris on Oct. 31, 2011. Credit: EPA/DOU MATAR/UNESCO/HANDOUT

Palestinian Authority and other delegates applauding aftet the General Conference admits "Palestine" as a UNESCO member state in Paris on Oct. 31, 2011. Credit: EPA/DOU MATAR/UNESCO/HANDOUTIt’s not just UNESCO: The Palestinians’ top envoy in Geneva said Tuesday he believes that joining the U.N. agency for culture, education and science will “open the door” to joining 16 other U.N. agencies within weeks.

Ibrahim Khraishi told The Associated Press that Palestinian diplomats are now planning to capitalize on Monday’s landslide vote to allow the Palestinians into UNESCO by preparing papers to join the other U.N. agencies and a variety of other international organizations.

“Now we are studying when we are going to move for full membership on the other U.N. agencies,” Khraishi said. “It’s our target for (us to join) the international organizations and the U.N. agencies.”

He said the UNESCO vote sets a precedent to allowing such broad memberships.

“We are working on it, one by one,” he said. “Because it’s now precedent that we are a full member in one of the biggest and one of the most important U.N. agencies, UNESCO.”

Following UNESCO’s decision to accept “Palestine” as its 195th member, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a meeting on Tuesday with his inner cabinet of ministers, known as the Forum of Eight, to discuss Israel’s response to the move.

During the meeting, the ministers called for an end to the transfer of funds to the Palestinian Authority, Army Radio reported.

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar told Israel Radio on Tuesday that the government would have to weigh the steps it wanted to take against the Palestinian Authority’s continued unilateral moves in international forums, and that this was a “political decision” that needed to be reviewed on the prime ministerial level.

Speaking during a tour of Hebron and Kiryat Arba, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel should stop funding both UNESCO and the Palestinian Authority. “It would be very weird if Israel continued pouring money into UNESCO now that the Americans have withdrawn their funding,” Steinitz said.

A total of 107 countries voted to give the Palestinian Authority full member status in UNESCO during the organization’s general assembly in Paris. Only 14 states opposed the move, including the U.S., Israel, Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany. France, home to UNESCO headquarters, voted in favor.

In Washington, officials also reacted to the Palestinian victory with strong dismay and announced that the U.S. would freeze funding to the organization. Shortly after the UNESCO vote, U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland announced that the Obama administration would not transfer some $60 million that was slated for UNESCO this month.

Each year, the U.S. provides UNESCO with about $80 million, or 22 percent of the organization’s annual budget. The cessation of funding was mandated by U.S. law, which prohibits the transfer of funds to any U.N. organization that recognizes a Palestinian state before the Palestinians have reached an agreement with Israel.

House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee head Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) led the support for the decision to cut U.S. funding, saying UNESCO’s action “rewards the Palestinian leadership’s dangerous scheme to bypass negotiations with Israel and seek recognition of a self-declared ‘Palestinian state.’”

Ros-Lehtinen spearheaded a bill earlier this year that would cut U.S. funding for U.N. organizations that support recognition of “Palestine” as a state or upgrade its status.

On the Palestinian side, Monday’s decision by UNESCO marked the greatest international endorsement yet for an independent Palestinian state. When the votes were tallied, many delegates jumped to their feet and applauded, and someone called out, “Long live Palestine!” in French.

“Joy fills my heart. This is really a historic moment,” Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said. “It’s the return of he who was banished.”

Even if the vote’s impact is not felt immediately in the Middle East, it will be quickly felt at UNESCO, which protects historic heritage sites and works to improve world literacy, access to schooling for girls and cultural understanding. One of the first concrete results of Palestine’s membership could be that the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, will be listed as a world heritage site. The Palestinians have already prepared an application for this.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel “will not welcome with open arms measures that hurt the country and blatantly violate the most basic commitment the parties took upon themselves in the peace process: to solve the conflict only through direct negotiations.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, “We must consider severing all ties with the Palestinian Authority.”

Israeli Ambassador to UNESCO Nimrod Barkan said the decision did “a great disservice to international law and to chances for peace.” In a speech to delegates after the vote, he said “a large number of member states, though most emphatically less than two-thirds of the member states [UNESCO], have adopted a science-fiction version of reality.”

On Monday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry called out the European Union, expressing disappointment that the EU, which is working to renew the direct negotiations and opposes the Palestinian move, “could not reach a unified position to prevent this decision.”

Monday’s vote is definitive, and the membership formally takes effect when “Palestine” signs UNESCO’s founding charter.

Posted on November 1, 2011 and filed under Israel.