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UNESCO grants membership to Palestine

RIA Novosti

17:53 31/10/2011 PARIS, October 31 (RIA Novosti) - The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted in favor of the Palestinian Autonomy's accession bid on Monday, despite a threat from the U.S. to cut off funding for the organization in response.

UNESCO is the first UN body to recognize Palestine since it made a statehood membership bid to the United Nations in September which was blocked by a US veto in the Security Council.

One hundred and seven UNESCO member states voted in favor of the Palestinian bid, while 14 were against and 52 abstained.

Among the countries that supported the Palestinian bid were France, Greece, Norway, Russia and Spain. French support came as a surprise as Paris has repeatedly said that Palestine’s membership of UNESCO was untimely.

Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Sweden and the United States opposed the bid.

Nimrod Barkan, the Israeli envoy to UNESCO, said the vote was "tragic for the idea of UNESCO."

The U.S. representative at UNESCO, David Killion said the decision would "complicate our ability to support UNESCO."

"The only way forward to the Palestinian state we seek is through negotiations," Killion said. "We believe efforts such we have seen today are counterproductive."

The United States’ annual funding for UNESCO is about $80 million per year, or more than 20 percent of the agency's total budget.

The United States and Israel voiced fears that the move could undermine Arab-Israeli peace talks, but the Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed such concerns.

“Palestinian representatives stand firm on the fact that their accession bids to the UN and other international organizations are not alternatives to the peace talks with Israel,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said.

A total of 131 states have recognized Palestinian statehood so far.

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