By Sarah Delorenzo, Globe and Mail, October 31, 2011
Palestine became a full member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on Monday as its membership approved the measure in a 107-14 vote with 52 abstentions.
In a surprise, France voted “yes” – and the room erupted in cheers – while the “no” votes included the United States, Israel, Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany.
“Long live Palestine!” someone shouted in the hall, in French, at the unusually tense and dramatic meeting of UNESCO’s General Conference.
Monday’s vote was a grand symbolic victory for the Palestinians, but it alone won’t make Palestine into a state. The issues of borders for an eventual Palestinian state, security troubles and other disputes that have thwarted Middle East peace for decades remain unresolved.
“Joy fills my heart. This is really an historic moment,” said Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki.
Reaction from the United States was swift. Within hours of the vote, the Obama administration said it would refrain from making a $60-million payment it planned to make in November for the UN cultural agency. Canada is also reconsidering how much support it gives UNESCO, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said.
Even if the vote’s impact isn’t felt right away in the Mideast, 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.
UNESCO depends heavily on U.S. funding – Washington provides 22 per cent of its budget or about $80 million a year – 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.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said she worried Monday’s decision could put the agency in a precarious position.
“I am worried we may confront a situation that could erode UNESCO as a universal platform for dialogue,” said Ms. Bokova, who has led a drive to reform the institution.
In an address to parliament, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu harshly criticized the Palestinians’ move.
“Unfortunately, the Palestinians continue to refuse to negotiate with us. Instead of sitting around the negotiating table, they have decided to form an alliance with Hamas and take unilateral steps at the UN, including today,” Mr. Netanyahu said. He warned his government would “not sit quietly.”
Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Nimrod Barkan, called the vote a tragedy. “They’ve forced a drastic cut in contributions to the organization.”
“UNESCO deals in science, not science fiction,” he said. “They forced on UNESCO a political subject out of its competence.”
A central question in these moves by Palestine, is whether their aggressive push for statehood, with the support of so many members of the UN, endangers the viability of Israel. Clearly, the issue of Palestinian statehood will now go to the Security Council, and clearly the U.S. will veto the application leaving the question lingering in the air, without a confirming resolution from the Security Council. However, while many of the other members of the Security Council voted in favour of the UNESCO decision yesterday there were significant abstentions.
And this by Flavia Krause-Jackson and David Lerman from Bloomberg, November 1, 2011
Among the more than 52 countries that abstained from voting in Unesco, there were three critical Security Council members -- Portugal, Colombia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. That is a blow for Abbas, who had been courting them personally for months to try to gain the upper hand in the 15-member council.
In more bad news for Abbas, the three leaders representing the Muslims, Croats and Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina met yesterday and failed to reach a unified position to support the Palestinians’ UN application.
That leaves the Palestinians one vote short of the nine needed in the Security Council to approve the application for full UN membership. Reaching that number would represent a moral victory and force the U.S. to use its veto to block Palestinian membership.
Instead, as things stand, the Palestinians can still only count on eight council members -- Russia, China, Gabon, Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, Lebanon and India -- to vote yes.