The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted overwhelmingly in favor of granting full membership to the Palestinian Authority, but it will cost the agency the United States' portion of its funding.
The U.S. and Israel had condemned the Palestinian bid for full membership, accusing the Palestinians of thwarting direct talks with Israel. Despite the opposition of 14 countries to the admittance of Palestine as a member of UNESCO, the affirming vote triggered a long-standing congressional ban on U.S. funding to UN bodies that recognize Palestine as a state before an Israeli-Palestinian deal is reached.
Ergo, the U.S. said it would not be making a $60 million payment to fill out its contributions for this year and would suspend all future funding. UNESCO relies heavily on that money, as Washington provides 22 percent of its budget, but has previously survived without it. The U.S. pulled out of UNESCO under President Ronald Reagan, rejoining two decades later under President George W. Bush, The Associated Press reported.
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, State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
But while Nuland said the U.S. remained committed to UNESCO and its goals, the organization's internal rules will strip Washington of its vote if it is delinquent in paying its dues for two years.
Israeli Ambassador Nimrod Barkan said the decision did a great disservice to international law and to chance for peace.
UNESCO deals in science, not science fiction, Barkan said in a speech to delegates after the vote. However, a large number of member states, though most emphatically less than two-thirds of the member states of this organization, have adopted a science fiction version of reality.
His government said it was reconsidering his participation with UNESCO.
Monday's vote is definitive, and the membership formally takes effect when Palestine signs UNESCO's founding charter, the AP reported. It is seen as yet another step taken by Palestine to move to a greater world stage, replete with international recognition and hopes of moving closer to statehood through channels other than direct negotiations with Israel.
On Tuesday, Ibrahim Khraishi, the top Palestinian envoy at the UN in Geneva, told the AP that Palestinian diplomats are now planning to capitalize on Monday's win by preparing papers to join other UN agencies.
It's our target for (us to join) the international organizations and the UN agencies. We are working on it, one by one, Khraishi said.
Because it's now precedent that we are a full member in one of the biggest and one of the most important UN agencies, UNESCO. So it will open the door for us now to go further in our efforts to join other UN agencies.