UNESCO Grants Palestinians Full Membership

Cultural body is first UN agency Palestinians have sought to join since opening bid for recognition; Brazil, Russia, China, India, South Africa and France vote in favor; U.S., Canada and Germany oppose, while Britain abstains.

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The United Nations' cultural agency decided on Monday to give the Palestinians full membership of the body, a vote that will boost their bid for recognition as a state at the United Nations.

UNESCO is the first UN agency the Palestinians have sought to join as a full member since President Mahmoud Abbas applied for full membership of the United Nations on Sept. 23.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaking at the UN General Assembly, Sept. 23, 2010Credit: AP

The motion to admit the Palestinians was passed by UNESCO members meeting in Paris, with 107 votes in favor, 14 against and 52 abstentions.

The United States, Canada and Germany voted against Palestinian membership. Brazil, Russia, China, India, South Africa and France voted in favor. Britain abstained.

U.S. lawmakers had threatened to withhold some $80 million in funding to UNESCO if it approved Palestinian membership.

The U.S. is the biggest contributor to UNESCO, accounting for 22 percent of its $653 million budget.

U.S. officials opposed the Palestinian UNESCO request and say it could harm renewed efforts for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Huge cheers went up in UNESCO after delegates voted to approve the membership on Monday. One shouted "Long Live Palestine!" in French.

Palestinian officials are seeking full membership in the United Nations, but because that effort is expected to take some time, they separately pursued membership at Paris-based UNESCO.

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