November 1, 2011

UNESCO Approves Palestinian Bid for Full Membership

The U.N. agency focusing on education and science voted Monday to accept a Palestinian bid for full membership, in the first vote on the matter by a part of the world body. The vote, which required two-thirds approval by UNESCO members, passed with 107 votes in favor, 14 against, and 52 abstentions. The vote is separate from the Palestinian bid for full membership in the United Nations. Representatives of several countries pointed out that currently that bid is being discussed by members of the U.N. Security Council. Huge applause broke out at the meeting in Paris when the results of the vote were announced. The vote risks the agency - the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization - losing its U.S. funding, which accounts for more than a fifth of its budget. Some U.S. lawmakers have threatened to cut off the funding, which a spokeswoman for the U.S. Mission to UNESCO said totals $80 million a year. - U.N. agency approves full Palestinian membership, CNN, October 31, 2011

Israeli disbelief that renewed negotiations with the PA will bring peace reflect earlier findings, including that of the October 2010 Peace Index Poll, which found that Israelis, by 65% to 34% believe that negotiations between Israel and the PA will not lead to peace between Israel and the Palestinians in coming years; that 72% of Israelis believe that “The Palestinians have not accepted the existence of the State of Israel and would destroy it if they could”; that 67% of Israelis believe Palestinians will not accept Israel even if a peace agreement were to be signed; and that only 27% of Israelis believe that the PA will fulfill its obligations under any peace agreement that might be signed, whereas 68% of Israelis believe they will not. - New Poll: Israelis Support New Gaza Offensive, Tea Party Tribune, November 14, 2011

Palestinians raised their flag at the headquarters of the U.N. cultural agency in Paris on December 13, 2011, as the agency’s 195th member, a historic move and symbolic boost for their push for an independent state. Cheers rose as the red, black, white and green flag went up in pouring rain under the gaze of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova. She welcomed Palestine without mentioning the U.S. funding cutoff that its membership prompted and that is hobbling the organization. “This is truly a historic moment,” Abbas said later at an indoor ceremony, his speech punctuated by rousing applause and standing ovations. He said he and the Palestinian people were deeply moved that their flag could join the 194 others at the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, headquartered in a massive concrete structure on Paris’ Left Bank. “We hope this will be a good auspice for Palestine to become a member of other organizations,” he said. - New member Palestine raises flag at UNESCO, Daily Star, December 14, 2011

U.S. Cuts Funding for UNESCO after Palestinian Vote

The Associated Press
November 1, 2011

The Obama administration cut off funding for the U.N. cultural agency on Monday, after its member countries defied an American warning and approved a Palestinian bid for full membership.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the vote triggered a long-standing congressional restriction on funding to U.N. bodies that recognize Palestine as a state before an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is reached. She said the U.S. as a result would refrain from making a $60 million 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 told reporters. "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 realized through direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians."

The U.S. will 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 U.S. funding — Washington provides 22 percent of its budget — but has survived without it in the past: The United States pulled out of UNESCO under President Ronald Reagan, rejoining two decades later under President George W. Bush.

The UNESCO vote represented a fallback plan for the Palestinian leadership that presented its plan for U.N. recognition as a state and full membership in the global body in September. Israel has fiercely opposed the bid, and it has no chance of passing because the Obama administration has promised to veto any resolution in the Security Council.

Nuland said U.S. payments to the Paris-based organization stopped effective Monday. While more than 150 countries voted for the Palestinian bid or abstained, Nuland insisted that their decision "creates tensions when all of us should be concerting our efforts to get the parties back to the table."

The U.S. has long brandished the Palestinian efforts at the U.N. as counterproductive to the Mideast peace process. But Washington has been unable to present a viable alternative, after a year when Israelis and Palestinians have refused to hold any direct talks on the parameters of peace agreement with one another.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the vote "is premature and undermines the international community's shared goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. Today's vote distracts us from our shared goal of direct negotiations that results in a secure Israel and an independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security."

U.N. Agency Approves Full Palestinian Membership (Excerpt)

October 31, 2011

...Palestinian leaders celebrated the vote.

"This is a significant victory and sends a clear message to those who are trying to hold history and deny the rights of Palestinians that there are a majority of nations with conscience who refuse to be intimidated and blackmailed," said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee, speaking by phone from Ramallah, in the West Bank.

"The ones who voted negatively are isolating themselves along with Israel on the wrong side of justice and the law. And if the U.S. continues to threaten to boycott or withdrawal from organizations that recognizes Palestine, it might find itself outside most global institutions with diminishing influence and standing," she said.

Sabri Saidam, adviser to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, said,

"This is a historic moment, a moment of jubilation on route to full recognition of Palestinian independence and self-determination, that's equally a call for reconsideration of positions to those wavering on the Security Council vote.

"It is also a foundation stone for what's to come at the (Security Council) and other international organizations. Today's experience is a manifestation of ability of the international community to defy occupation and practically work towards ending it."

The Israeli representative, Nimrod Barkan, addressing the meeting after the vote, called the decision "a tragedy for UNESCO" and "a great disservice to international law."

UNESCO has now "adopted the science fiction version of reality by admitting a nonexistent state to the science organization," he said.

In a statement, Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said,

"This is a unilateral Palestinian maneuver which will bring no change on the ground but further removes the possibility for a peace agreement. This decision will not turn the Palestinian Authority into an actual state yet places unnecessary burdens on the route to renewing negotiations. Israel believes that the correct and only way to make progress in the diplomatic process with the Palestinians is through direct negotiations without preconditions."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the vote during remarks at the start of the Knesset winter session.

"Instead of sitting around the negotiating table," Netanyahu said, Palestinian leaders "have decided to make an alliance with Hamas and are carrying out one-sided endeavors in the U.N., including today. We will not sit with folded arms against these measures which are hurting Israel and are violating bluntly the most basic obligations the parties took in the peace process, to solve the conflict between us through negotiations. Sadly, during the time we are trying to form a Palestinian state with a peace agreement they are trying to form a state without an agreement."

David Killion, the U.S. permanent representative to UNESCO, said the United States "cannot accept the premature Palestinian admission for membership in a United Nations specialized agency such as UNESCO."

"Despite the challenges ahead, we pledge to continue our efforts to find ways to support and strengthen the important work of this vital organization," he said, addressing the UNESCO meeting after the vote.

Killion did not say what could happen to U.S. funding for UNESCO.

The Pakistani representative called the decision "momentous."

"For over six decades, Palestinians have proven to be superb human beings but have regrettably remained without their rights," she said, adding that "today this wrong has been righted."

She referred to the longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as an "inimitable hero."

The representative from Sri Lanka said that with its vote, UNESCO "acted precisely as the conscience of the world community."

"I think that by showing Palestine's independence is an idea whose time has come and that this has brought recognition in the world community, we have in fact bolstered all the efforts which with respect towards a negotiated peace and towards the recognition that is sought in the Security Council," he said.

Earlier, as the vote was under way, applause broke out after some countries voted in favor of the bid.

There was laughter in the room after Israel voted no.

In September, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas launched the bid for the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state. UNESCO is the first agency the Palestinians have sought to join.

The Palestinian Authority-run Wafa news agency reported late on Monday that Palestine is preparing to apply for full membership in the World Health Organization.

Since Palestinian leaders made the request for membership in UNESCO earlier this month, U.S. lawmakers have urged the agency to reject it.

"Any recognition of Palestine as a Member State would not only jeopardize the hope for a resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but (it) would endanger the United States' contribution to UNESCO," said an October 13 letter signed by members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, which appropriates UNESCO's U.S. funding.

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, who chairs the subcommittee, said she will "advocate for all funding to be cut off."

"This is consistent with current law, and I will consider additional actions as needed," she said this month. "There are consequences for short-cutting the process, not only for the Palestinians, but for our longstanding relationship with the United Nations."

She was referring to a provision of U.S. code which states:

"No funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or any other Act shall be available for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, slammed Monday's vote. In a statement before the State Department announced it was cutting funding, Ros-Lehtinen said,

"Today's reckless action by UNESCO is anti-Israel and anti-peace. It rewards the Palestinian leadership's dangerous scheme to bypass negotiations with Israel and seek recognition of a self-declared 'Palestinian state,' and takes us further from peace in the Middle East."

"Existing U.S. law mandates that we cut off funding to any U.N. body that approves such a request. The administration must stop trying to find ways not to fully implement this law, and instead cut off funding to UNESCO immediately," she said. "And Congress must pass pending U.N. reform legislation to cut off funding to any U.N. entity that grants any upgraded status to 'Palestine.' Such strong action is the only way to deter other U.N. bodies from following in UNESCO's footsteps, and to prevent U.S. taxpayer dollars from paying for biased entities at the U.N."

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