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UNESCO's 'divisive' decision to recognize Palestine
After a landslide vote, the U.N.'s cultural agency welcomes Palestine as a member state. What will it mean for the key players? Here, 5 theories
 
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki and Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO Elias Sanbar during Monday's announcement of Palestine's membership into the U.N.'s cultural agency.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki and Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO Elias Sanbar during Monday's announcement of Palestine's membership into the U.N.'s cultural agency.
REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted overwhelmingly Monday to admit Palestine as a member state, stoking tensions as the Security Council prepares to vote next month on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' request for full U.N. membership. The U.S., legally prohibited from giving money to any U.N. agency granting status to the Palestinians, vowed to cut off funding to UNESCO, and Israel said the vote would be an obstacle to Middle East peace. What did this "divisive" diplomatic power play really accomplish? Here, five theories:

1. This move will cost UNESCO dearly
The U.S. was due to send UNESCO $60 million next month, but now the money won't be coming, say Edmund Sanders and Paul Richter in the Los Angeles Times. "The cutoff deprives UNESCO of 22 percent of its funding." Diplomats say such a blow could force the agency, which promotes literacy, human rights, and the preservation of world historic sites, to start laying off its employees soon.

2. It further isolates the U.S. and Israel
"This was a very bad day for the United States," says Edward Teller at Firedoglake. When the Israeli ambassador voted "no," "the audience actually erupted in openly derisive laughter." When the Palestinians won in a landslide — 107 of the 173 countries taking part voted "yes," 52 abstained, and 14 voted "no" — "the audience erupted in cheers," making it clear whose side U.N. diplomats are on.

3. The U.S. will suffer more if other agencies follow suit
"The UNESCO vote could start an avalanche of such acceptances among various U.N. bodies," says Juan Cole at Informed Comment. If that happens, the U.S. won't just be isolated — it will be weakened. "What if the International Atomic Energy Agency recognizes Palestine as a member? If the U.S. cuts it off, it loses a key arena within which it has been pressuring Iran over its nuclear enrichment program."

4. This might actually encourage a peace deal
Clearly, the Palestinians have lost faith in negotiations with Israel, says Dawoud Abu Lebdeh in Dubai's Khaleej Times. But their U.N. appeal amounts to an endorsement of "a two-state solution in which a Palestinian state exists next to Israel along the 1967 borders." That might not be the peace deal Israel wants, but it's "considered a great compromise in the eyes of the Palestinian people for whom recognizing a state of Israel within the 1967 borders means giving up on 78 percent of historical Palestine." It would be wise to "build on this momentum" before the Palestinians give up on the non-violent approach altogether.

5. This does not mean much... yet
"A possibly crucial technical point: The membership becomes effective only when Palestinians sign and ratify the UNESCO constitution," says Karl Vick at TIME. But you need a sitting legislature to do that, and the Palestinians haven't had one "since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, dividing Palestinian territories between that coastal enclave and the West Bank, where Abbas' Fatah party rules." The two factions have agreed to reconcile, but they won't be able to hold elections until January or February, at the earliest.

 

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