PARIS — Palestinians won a crucial vote to enter UNESCO as a full member on Monday, October 31, scoring a symbolic victory ahead of a vote on Palestine joining the UN General Assembly in New York.
"The general assembly decides to admit Palestine as a member of UNESCO," said the resolution quoted by Agence France Presse (AFP).
The Palestinian bid received 107 "yes" votes during a UNESCO meeting in Paris, with 14 countries voting against and 52 abstaining.
The United States, Canada and Germany voted against Palestinian membership. France, Brazil, Russia, China, India, South Africa and France voted in favor. Britain abstained.
The vote highlighted divisions over foreign policy within the European Union, some of whose 27 members voted for and some against Palestinian membership.
Austrian UNESCO ambassador Ursula Plassnik, whose country voted in favor, said she regretted the European Union could not arrive at a common position on the Palestinian issue.
The decision grants full membership to Palestine.
"Today's vote brings the number of UNESCO's member states to 195," the UN body said in a statement.
Admission will be seen by the Palestinians as a moral victory in their bid for full UN membership. Yet, it could be costly for UNESCO.
US lawmakers had threatened to withhold some $80 million in funding to UNESCO if it approved Palestinian membership.
"The action today will complicate our ability to support UNESCO," David T. Killion, US ambassador to UNESCO, told journalists after the vote, Reuters reported.
"The US has been clear for the need of a two-state resolution, but the only path is through direct negotiations and there are no shortcuts, and initiatives like today are counterproductive."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas presented a request to the United Nations on Friday, September 23, for full membership of a Palestinian state.
Washington has threatened to veto the Palestinian statehood recognition and Israel has threatened punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority.
For Palestinians, UNESCO's vote to accept Palestine as a member was a "jubilant day" that would ease the injustice done the Palestinian people over the past decades.
"This is a historic day for Palestinians," Sabri Saidam, an advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told DPA.
"To us this is one political pillar of many pillars in our struggle to have independence and I believe we are closer to independence than ever before," he added.
"This is a big message for those wavering and those opposing the Palestinian motion at the Security Council," he said, asking those member states of the council who opposed recommending that Palestine be accepted as a full UN member state "to reconsider their positions."
An opposite reaction was reflected by the Israeli ambassador to the UN body, describing the vote as a "tragedy."
"This resolution is a tragedy for UNESCO...UNESCO deals in science and not science fiction and nevertheless (UNESCO) adopted the science fiction reality," said Nimrod Barkan, Israel's ambassador to UNESCO.
A similar reaction was echoed by the Israeli Foreign Ministry who rejected the Palestinian move as a political maneuver to affect the world opinion.
"This is a unilateral Palestinian maneuver which will bring no change on the ground but further removes the possibility for a peace agreement," Israel's Foreign Ministry said in a statement cited by Reuters.
"This decision will not turn the Palestinian Authority into an actual state yet places unnecessary burdens on the route to renewing negotiations."
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Israel should consider cutting all ties with the Palestinian Authority.
"My recommendations will be very clear. We need to weigh cutting all ties with the Palestinian Authority," the foreign minister explained at an Israel Beiteinu faction meeting, The Jerusalem Post reported.
"We cannot continue to accept unilateral measures time after time," he said.
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