President Mahmoud Abbas symbolically hoisted the Palestinian flag at the headquarters of the U.N. cultural agency on Tuesday calling it the first step to international recognition for Palestine.
Some 50 diplomatic guests watched as Abbas lifted the flag while the Palestinian national anthem was played at UNESCO's headquarters in Paris, through biting wind and pouring rain.
It is moving to see our flag raised and for it to be flying in this beautiful city of Paris among all the other states. This bodes well for Palestine becoming a member of other international institutions, Abbas told UNESCO ambassadors.
The Palestinians won admission to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in October, a move that prompted the United States to cut off funding to the agency. Abbas said they intended to apply to 16 other international institutions for full membership.
The UNESCO vote was a diplomatic victory for Abbas, who in the absence of peace talks with Israel has pushed for recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations, a move opposed by the Jewish state and by Washington.
Israel regrets that an organisation responsible for education and science was at the heart of making a decision based on science fiction by integrating an entity that has no legal status as a state, the Israeli embassy in Paris said.
In a move that has split the U.N. Security Council, Abbas is pressing for statehood without waiting any longer for a breakthrough in negotiations with Israel on a peace treaty to end the 63-year-old Middle East conflict.
We welcome any step that bolsters the Palestinian entity and demand the international community break its silence on the Israeli occupation, end its bias and recognize the full rights of the Palestinian people, said Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas administration in Gaza which is a rival of Abbas' Fatah.
SECURITY COUNCIL VOTE
Israel and its main ally the United States say only a peace treaty can establish a universally recognised Palestinian state. But the Palestinians say they have been patient through 20 years of futile talks.
Talks collapsed more than a year ago over continued Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel after a 1967 war in a move not recognised internationally. Since the UNESCO vote in October, Israel has pressed ahead with new settlements.
We are doing our utmost to restart negotiations, Abbas told reporters. We can talk about security, frontiers, but Israel must stop the settlements. If that is done we will go back to the table.
Envoys of the so-called Quartet of the European Union, United States, Russia and the United Nations will travel to Jerusalem on Wednesday to try to break the deadlock.
Abbas applied on September 23 for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, to have full membership of the U.N., which considers Palestine an observer entity only.
There was a degree of resistance, but we are talking with several parties so it is put to a vote. It could happen at any time. If we do not get a majority we will try again, Abbas said.
Abbas, who still wants a U.N. Security Council vote on a resolution for a Palestinian state even though it would be blocked by a U.S. veto, was to meet President Nicolas Sarkozy later on Tuesday.
Sarkozy has called for Abbas to take an alternative route by
asking the U.N. General Assembly to upgrade Palestine's U.N. status to just short of full membership.
Abbas did not rule out seeking a General Assembly vote ahead of the Security Council option.
We can make our request at any moment, he said. We have exchanged views on whether the request will be before the Security Council or General Assembly. It will be talked about this afternoon. We shouldn't pre-judge things.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Mark Trevelyan)