Palestine Unesco membership sparks fury in Israel


THE ISRAELI foreign minister says Israel should consider cutting all ties with the Palestinian Authority in response to yesterday’s decision by the UN cultural organisation Unesco to accept Palestine as a full member.

“My recommendations will be very clear,” Avigdor Lieberman told his Yisrael Beiteinu parliamentary faction. “We need to weigh cutting all ties with the Palestinian Authority. I’m not prepared for Israel to become the ultimate sucker in the Middle East. We cannot continue to accept unilateral measures time after time.”

In an address to parliament, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu harshly criticised the Palestinian move and warned his government would “not sit quietly”.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the Unesco decision. “This vote is not directed against anyone, but represents support for freedom and justice. This vote is for the sake of peace and represents international consensus on support for the legitimate Palestinian national rights of our people, the foremost of which is the establishment of its independent state.”

The membership resolution, which was put to the 193-member general assembly of the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation meeting in Paris, passed by 107 votes in favour, with 14 against and 52 abstentions. The overwhelming Yes vote constituted a major symbolic victory on the road to securing full UN membership.

Ireland voted in favour along with a number of other European Union states, such as France and Austria. Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa also voted in favour. The United States, Canada, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands voted against Palestinian membership. Britain and Italy abstained.

The Israeli foreign ministry criticised the move as a unilateral Palestinian manoeuvre that further removed the chances of reaching peace through direct negotiations.

Jerusalem also criticised the EU. “It is disappointing that the European Union, which is working to renew the direct negotiations and opposes the Palestinian move, could not reach a unified position to prevent this decision,” the foreign ministry statement said.

Unesco became the first UN agency the Palestinians have joined as a full member since president Mahmoud Abbas applied for full UN membership on September 23rd. The Palestinian UN membership bid is due to be debated by the UN Security Council on November 11th.

Washington has vowed to veto the application when it comes up for a vote, in a move that may spark a major anti-US backlash in the Arab and Muslim world.

Reacting to the Unesco decision, the US said yesterday it had stopped funding the agency, following the vote. A state department spokeswoman said the US had no choice but to halt funding because of US laws passed in the 1990s, saying it would not make a planned $60 million transfer due in November.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the vote harmed Middle East peace prospects. “Today’s vote distracts us from our shared goal of direct negotiations that result in a secure Israel and an independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security.”

Ghasan Khatib, spokesman for the Palestinian government in the West Bank, urged the US to maintain its Unesco funding.