Israel slams UNESCO vote on Palestinian membership

JERUSALEM (Reuters) — Israel denounced on Thursday a UNESCO board decision to allow a vote on Palestinian membership, as the agency’s representative to the Palestinian territories said the move will allow Palestinians to protect their heritage sites.

Paul Hirschson, spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, said that the Wednesday decision to allow 193 member states to vote on the admission of Palestine, was doing Palestinians “no favors.”

The spokesman told reporters that nations behind the vote “are encouraging the Palestinians to avoid negotiations,” a tack he said would not be successful.

“The internationalization, the injecting of the conflict into the corporate boardroom and into world courts around the world is merely an extension of the conflict in a different format, one which is not going to get the Palestinians anywhere,” he added.

As Palestinians moved a step closer to full membership of the UN cultural agency, UNESCO representative in the Palestinian Territories, Ismail Tilawi, told Reuters that admission will allow Palestinians to protect their heritage sites from Israeli takeover.

“Israel was trying many times to register Palestinian historical and heritage sites as Israeli sites. So when we become a full member of UNESCO Israel will be prevented from registering our sites as Israeli sites,” Tilawi told Reuters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The latest move in a Palestinian quest for statehood recognition drew a swift rebuke from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The US, along with Israel, say Palestinians cannot establish a state without entering negotiations with Israel, which Palestinian leaders say is currently impossible as Israel continues to expand Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

UNESCO’s vote raised questions about whether Washington might be required by US law to cut off funding for the agency if it were to accept the Palestinians as a member. The United States pays 22 percent of UNESCO’s dues, the State Department said.

In September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas applied to the Security Council for full membership of the United Nations, ignoring a US warning that it would veto the move, as well as threats from members of the US Congress to restrict American aid to the Palestinians.

At UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 40 representatives of the 58-member board voted in favor of putting the matter to a vote, with four — the United States, Germany, Romania and Latvia — voting against and 14 abstaining.

This set the scene for a membership vote at UNESCO’s General Conference, a meeting that runs from Oct. 25 to Nov. 10 and involves all 193 members of the agency, based in Paris.

( / 06.10.2011)

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