PARIS - Palestinians cleared their first hurdle Wednesday to full membership in the UN cultural agency, an official said, as they expand and accelerate their push for international recognition.
With peace talks stalled and efforts to secure UN recognition of a Palestinian state inching along a labyrinthine path, Palestinian diplomats are pursuing potentially faster avenues toward getting the world to consider their territories a nation.
One is in Paris-based UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, where the executive board agreed yesterday to send the Palestinians' request to a vote.
The Palestinians are also seeking a foothold in the World Trade Organization and won partnership status this week in the Council of Europe, the continent's leading human rights body.
The UNESCO request is being seen as a test case indicating the breadth of support for the Palestinian push for statehood recognition.
The Palestinian delegation, which has had observer status at UNESCO since 1974, presented a draft resolution to the agency's executive board yesterday, according to diplomats there.
A UNESCO official confirmed that the board voted overwhelmingly to send it to a vote of the body's 193 members, two-thirds of whom must approve any request for full membership.
The vote will take place at UNESCO's General Conference, which runs from October 25 to November 10.
Opponents say the UNESCO bid could undermine the broader UN discussions.
Israel's ambassador to UNESCO, Nimrod Barkan, told Haaretz that the U.S. has clearly indicated that if the motion passes and the Palestinians become full members, it will stop contributing funds to the organization. This would cripple UNESCO, as the U.S contribution makes up 22 percent of its entire budget.
Israel's ambassadors around the globe will spend the coming weeks approaching and trying to persuade various governments not to "politicize UNESCO," Barkan added.
Ismail Tilawi, the representative of UNESCO in the Palestinian territories, says that since the formation of the Palestinian Authority in the mid-1990s, a request for Palestinian membership has been on the agenda of every UNESCO General Conference, which convenes every two years.
The chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, called for a cutoff of U.S. funds to UNESCO if the Palestinian effort succeeds.
In fact, a U.S. law prohibits Washington from funding a UN organization that grants full membership to any group "that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood."
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday that "the problem here is that a move in UNESCO is not going to create a Palestinian state that is secure, that is living next to Israel in security, in self-determination and in mutual recognition."
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