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AJE - US condemns UNESCO over Palestine vote

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    AJE - Aljazeera - 01 Nov 2011 US condemns UNESCO over Palestine vote Washington stops payment of $60 million in annual funding to UN heritage body after it
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2011
      AJE - Aljazeera -
      01 Nov 2011

      US condemns UNESCO over Palestine vote

      Washington stops payment of $60 million in annual funding to UN heritage
      body after it admits Palestine as full member.
      Gregg Carlstrom Last Modified: 01 Nov 2011 06:19


      The US government has cut off tens of millions of dollars in annual
      funding to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
      (UNESCO) after it voted to admit Palestine as a full member.

      Victoria Nuland, the US state department spokeswoman, said payments to
      the Paris-based organisation would be stopped immediately. She said
      Washington would refrain from making a $60m payment it planned to
      deliver in November.

      "Today's vote by the member states of UNESCO to admit Palestine as a
      member is regrettable, premature, and undermines our shared goal of a
      comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East,'' Nuland said.

      The Palestinian bid received 107 "yes" votes during a UNESCO meeting in
      the French capital, with 14 countries voting against and 52 abstaining,
      enough to satisfy a two-thirds majority of those countries present and

      The decision grants full membership to Palestine, which has had observer
      status since 1974; it allows the Palestinians to register certain sites,
      like the Church of the Nativity, in UNESCO's World Heritage register.
      Riad al-Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister, said the vote would
      help to "preserve cultural heritage in Palestine."

      UNESCO membership marks a small victory for the Palestine Liberation
      Organisation (PLO), which filed a bid last month for full membership at
      the UN.

      UNESCO, like many UN agencies, is a part of the world body but has
      separate membership procedures and can make its own decisions about
      which countries belong.

      The disconnect between memberships is rare but not unprecedented. Two
      tiny Pacific island nations - the Cook Islands and Niue - are members of
      UNESCO but not the UN, while Liechtenstein belongs to the larger world
      body but not the cultural agency.

      The PLO's bid for full membership has been stalled for weeks at the UN
      Security Council, and will likely face a US veto when it comes to a vote.

      Symbolic weight

      The "yes" vote at UNESCO will add at least symbolic weight to the PLO's
      argument that the UN should recognise a Palestinian state.

      "It's good news. It's another step in the right direction," said Husam
      Zomlot, a PLO member and former ambassador. "We're marching towards full
      status in the international system. UNESCO is a very important

      Nimrod Barkan, the Israeli representative to UNESCO, called the vote
      "tragic for the idea of UNESCO".

      Israel voted against the measure, as did the US, Canada and several
      European countries, including Germany. The UK abstained, while France
      voted in favour.

      Ahmed Yousef, a Hamas official and the deputy foreign minister in Gaza,
      called it a "great achievement" and said the vote "shows that Israel and
      America are not dictating politics to the world anymore".

      Mouin Rabbani, an analyst at the Institute for Palestinian Studies in
      Amman, said the vote would make it harder for those countries to
      successfully oppose Palestinian efforts for recognition.

      "What they're doing is developing leverage over the Americans, the
      Europeans, the Israelis, so these parties begin to take them more
      seriously," Rabbani said.

      Nuland 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.

      'Direct negotiations'

      "The United States remains steadfast in its support for the
      establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state, but
      such a state can only be realised through direct negotiations between
      the Israelis and the Palestinians," she said.

      Nuland said the PLO's push for UN recognition had hindered talks between
      Israel and the PLO. But pressed by reporters in Washington, she could
      not say how the UNESCO vote hurt negotiations. Talks between the two
      sides have been stalled for more than a year.

      The US would maintain its membership and participation in the body,
      Nuland said, though it was not immediately clear how that would work if
      it was no longer paying its share of the costs.

      UNESCO depends heavily on US funding, with Washington providing 22 per
      cent of its budget, but has survived without it in the past.

      The US pulled out of UNESCO under President Ronald Reagan, rejoining two
      decades later under President George W Bush.

      The European Union tried to stop the PLO bid by offering them limited
      membership on UNESCO's executive committee, and funds to renovate the
      Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, believed to be the birthplace of Jesus.

      The PLO rejected that offer, with one official telling the Israeli
      newspaper Haaretz that "the EU [was] trying to tempt us with money to
      sell our principles".

      Source: Al Jazeera
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