Washington, Oct. 5 — The United Nations culture and science agency UNESCO today recommended full membership for the Palestinian Authority, a move that could give the Palestinians standing to try to interfere with cultural and archeological activities and religious sites in Israel.
The executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, voted 40-4, with 14 countries abstaining, to allow the United Nation’s 193 member-states to vote on the issue at UNESCO’s General Conference Oct. 25-Nov. 10. The four countries casting no-votes were the United States, Germany, Latvia and Romania.
The Palestinians’ UNESCO application, several countries said, is part of its campaign to become a full member-state in the United Nations. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas submitted a bid for U.N. membership last month and the matter is pending before the Security Council. The Palestinians have not mobilized the nine votes necessary for passage and the United States has promised to veto the measure if necessary.
The Mideast Quartet, comprising the United States, Russia, the European Union and the U.N., issued a statement last month calling on Israel and the Palestinians to return to negotiations without pre-conditions. Israel accepted the statement; the Palestinians rejected it.
If the UNESCO bid is approved, U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said the United States should sever its funding for UNESCO, which amounts to $87 million a year or 22 percent of the total budget.
"Feeling that their efforts at the U.N. Security Council will fail, the Palestinian leadership is shopping around the U.N. system for recognition," Ros-Lehtinen said. "This attempt to rig the process needs to be stopped dead in its tracks. Our contributions are our strongest leverage at the U.N., and should be used to stand up for our interests and allies and stop this dangerous Palestinian scheme."
In France, headquarters for UNESCO, a foreign ministry spokesman, also said UNESCO was not the right avenue for the Palestinian campaign.
“We consider that UNESCO is not the appropriate place and the General Conference is not the right moment,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement denouncing the Palestinian move at UNESCO:
“The Palestinians' actions at UNESCO negate both the bilateral negotiations route and the Quartet's proposal for continuing the diplomatic process. Their actions are a negative response to Israel's and the international community's efforts to promote the peace process.”
UNESCO’s mission is “to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information,” according to its Web site. Its motto is “Building peace in the minds of men and women.”
But the Palestinian Authority’s actions over the years have been anything but peaceful towards cultural, historical and religious sites.
In July, the Israel Lands Administration accused the Islamic Movement of placing 500 fake Muslim tombstones in an ancient Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem as part of a “land war” against Israel. The Lands Administration found there were no graves beneath the headstones.
The sentiments of the Palestinian people mirror those actions. In a recent poll of 1,010 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, 72 percent said it was “right” to deny “that Jews have a long history in Jerusalem going back thousands of years.” Another 53 percent of respondents also said it was “right” to teach “songs and chants in Palestinian schools that talk about hating the Jews.” The poll was conducted June 20-July 8, 2011 by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for The Israel Project.