<img alt=“unesco.jpg” align=right src=“http://blogs.nature.com/houseofwisdom/images/unesco.jpg” width=“280” height=“212” />In a landmark vote on 31 October, 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to admit Palestine as a full member of the organization.
Palestine became the 195th state in UNESCO, passed by a vote of 107 to 14, with 52 abstentions.
France, Ireland, Austria, and most of Latin America and Asia – along with Arab states, voted “yes”. The United States, Israel, Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany were among those who voted “no”. The United Kingdom and Japan were among the states that abstained.
The vote does not create a Palestinian state nor does it play part in critical decisions such as borders and the status of Jerusalem city. The recognition of Palestine in UNESCO is seen largely as a symbolic move. But it is part of larger Palestinian efforts to seek more international recognition, hoping to inch slowly towards an independent state.
Following the vote, the United States said it will cut off its funding to UNESCO, which it is legally bound to do due to a decision taken by Congress in 1994, which would stop funding to any UN organization that recognizes Palestine. The US is the largest funder to UNESCO, amounting to 22% of its budget – more than US$80 million annually. The funding gap could jeopardize much of UNESCO’s work worldwide.
The Palestinians already plan to submit an application to make the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem a world heritage site, and this is expected to be the first fruit from UNESCO’s recognition of Palestine.