The acceptance of the Palestinian Authority as permanent member of UNESCO didn't really cause a stir at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Much like the Geneva-based Human Rights Committee, whose priorities and voting patterns rarely cause a stir among the UN member states in New York, UNESCO, an independent organization, does not get much respect.
At the UN headquarters, there is widespread tacit criticism thatsome of its agencies and branches seem to discover excessive independence – a critique that turns bitter, especially when regarding initiatives directly related to the most pressing and divisive issues being discussed in New York.
Nonetheless, senior diplomats and commentators in New York note several significant aspects of UNESCO’s recognition of the Palestinian Authority. The move constitutes the first time any UN branch has recognized Palestine as a full member of the international body. “This is a problematic move that may cause a snowball effect, which will be difficult to stop”, said an official from the Western delegation.
According to reports, the Palestinian Authority is seeking to become a member of the World Health Organization and of 15 smaller UN agencies. “Every agency and organization is its own entity with laws and regulations its own, and usually operate outside of the United States – a fact that makes it difficult to influence any move they make”, said the official, adding that “the Palestinians are requesting membership and representation in the UN in order to hurt humiliate and isolate Israel.
Diplomats in New York say that the large majority of UN members which voted for Palestinian membership in UNESCO (106 for, 14 against), is an expression of adulation that the Palestinian issue has garnered across the world. Such adulation was a product of a process that reached an unprecedented peak during Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ September speech at the UN General Assembly.
The practical implications of Palestinians’ UNESCO membership will give it influence over ‘heritage sites’ located under Palestinian control in the West Bank, such as the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and areas around the Dead Sea.
Other commentators in New York stated that the PA’s UNESCO membership is problematic for other reasons. A state which is given membership must agree to the UNESCO Conventions, an agreement which must be passed by a parliamentary body which represents that nation and state.
Hamas’ rule in the Gaza Strip, which divides the Palestinian people, prevents the establishment of a united parliament which could agree to the conventions. Despite the strong backing of the Palestinian Authority, its status as a UNESCO member will not aid it in its attempts to gain a majority in the UN Security Council that would support its statehood bid.
“The Palestinians’ attempt to be accepted in different agencies will contribute nothing to their Security Council initiative, and may even hurt their efforts," one senior Western diplomat said. According to the diplomat, the United States is not the only member opposed to the United Nations agencies’ one-sided recognition of the PA. He says that there are other members in the Security Council that are distancing themselves from acts seen as openly defying the authority of the council.
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