The state was voted in to the United Nations organisation on Monday, 107 to 14 (with 52 abstentions), becoming the 195th member, despite it leading to a funding cut-off from the US.
As Palestine was voted in, cheers erupted at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, with one delegate shouting, “Long live Palestine!” in French.
The Palestinian foreign minister, Riad al-Malki, said, “this vote will help erase a tiny part of the injustice done to the Palestinian people”.
Al-Malki, insisting the Palestinian request for membership to UNESCO was “linked in no way” to its desire to be a part of the United Nations, added the move would help protect world heritage sites in Israeli-occupied territory.
The US government tried unsuccessfully to keep the vote from taking place, voting against Palestinian membership, joined by Germany, Australia, Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands and Israel, among others.
The European Union failed to come to a common position. Some European nations, including France and Belgium, voted in favour, joining China, Russia, Brazil, India and most African and Arab states. Many other European nations abstained, including Romania and Latvia, which had earlier
voted no in the executive council. Others abstaining included Britain, Poland, Portugal, Denmark, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Ukraine and Switzerland.
The US takes the ground that UN agencies should wait for a resolution of Palestine’s application for full membership in the United Nations as a whole. It believes Palestinian statehood should emerge from negotiations with Israel, not through international groups, otherwise little would change
for Palestinians on the ground.
As such, American contributions to UNESCO, including $60 million scheduled for this month, would not be paid.
Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian spokesman in the West Bank, urged Washington to provide the funds for UNESCO regardless of the law. He called the action on Monday “a vote of confidence from the international community”.
Palestine’s inclusion will cost the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) one-quarter of its yearly budget – the 22 percent contributed by the United States (about $70 million), plus another 3 percent contributed by Israel.
The American ambassador to UNESCO, David T. Killion, said the US would seek other means to support the agency.
Both parties in the US Congress denounced the UNESCO action on Monday.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida Republican who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, characterised the UNESCO move as “anti-Israeli and anti-peace” and called for a funds to be quickly cut off.
Bokova, the UNESCO director general, said she was concerned about immediate financial problems for her agency, and about American disengagement, which she said ran counter to the United States’ “core security interests”, and which she hoped would be temporary.
The Israeli ambassador, Nimrod Barkan, said that UNESCO had done “a great disservice” to international efforts to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
“UNESCO deals in science, not in science fiction,” he said.
Yigal Palmor, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Called the UNESCO vote “a big diplomatic car crash.”
UNESCO is best known for designating world heritage sites, and is a major global development agency whose missions include promoting literacy, science, clean water and education, including sex education and promoting equal treatment for girls and young women.
The United States rejoined the organization in 2003, ending a boycott that began under 1984 over charges that the organization then was corrupt, anti-Israel and anti-Western and wanted to regulate the international news media.