Palestinians Demand Recognition in UNESCO

In response to the opposition towards a Palestinian State from the US and Israel in the UN and the prospects of a US veto of membership, the Palestinian Authority has decided to attempt to gain recognition via UNESCO, the UN’s cultural and scientific body based in Paris.

This morning, Palestinian officials will present a draft resolution request for full membership to the body, which is represented by all 193 members of the UN, including a Palestinian delegation that has held observer status since 1974.  A simple two-third majority vote would give the Palestinian delegation full membership.  Israeli, American and French representatives oppose the move, saying UNESCO is not the right avenue for obtaining membership and that statehood should be left to the Security Council based in New York.

The Palestinian move faces opposition as it is likely to inflame tensions around the Middle East, especially in countries where democratic revolutions have just finished, such as in Tunisia.  If the move passes, they will be able to claim disputed cultural sites as their own.

According to Ismail Tilawi, the Palestinian UNESCO representative, the issue comes up at every meeting that occurs once every two years.  However, he expects the draft to pass, especially in the wake of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech at the UN last month demanding unilateral statehood from the General Assembly and Security council.

Nir Barkan, the Israeli representative, accused the Palestinians of using a cultural body for its political ends.  According to him, this sort of request prevents uNESCO from doing it job protecting cultural and scientific sites around the world.  He said that in the last few weeks, the body has dealt with five issues regarding Israel and none regarding other countries undergoing revolutions such as Libya and Syria.

The American response was muted, although there was talk in the US House of Representatives regarding cutting funding to UNESCO if the Palestinian request is accepted and approved.  France expressed its concerns, saying the effort will derail all peace efforts.  According to one official, UNESCO “is not the appropriate place nor time to seek recognition."