Palestine becomes Unesco member; US upset

Palestine Monday became the 195th full-time member of the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). The White House has termed the admission "premature" and threatened to withdraw funds from the UN agency.

In a vote at the 193-member UN agency's general conference in Paris, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) got 107 votes for its membership bid, with 14 countries against. A total of 52 countries abstained, Xinhua reported citing a Unesco statement.

"Today's (Monday's) vote brings the number of Unesco member states to 195," the UN cultural agency said. South Sudan last week became the 194th member.

The voting made Unesco the first UN agency to accept the PNA as a full member since Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas applied for formal UN membership at the UN General Assembly Sep 23. The Security Council will discuss the matter in November.

Israel and the US have opposed the Palestinian bid both in the UN General Assembly and the Unesco.

The US delegation threatened to withdraw America's share of funds to the Unesco if the Palestinian admission is accepted. The Israeli envoy made the same remarks ahead of the voting.

According to the New York Times, Unesco gets 22 percent of its annual budget, about $70 million a year, from the US.

Israel's contribution accounts for around three percent of the UN agency's annual budget.

Meanwhile, the White House has termed the formal admission of the Palestinian Authority to the Unesco "premature", claiming that the move will undermine the Middle East peace process.

"Today's vote at the Unesco to admit the Palestinian Authority as a member is premature and undermines the international community's shared goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

"Today's vote distracts us from our shared goal of direct negotiations that results in a secure Israel and an independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security," Carney was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

He reiterated that the US will only support measures that bring the Palestinians and the Israelis closer to direct negotiations, asserting that this is the only way to resolve the differences between the two sides.

The Unesco 36th general conference that opened in Paris Oct 25 will end Nov 10.

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