22nd Oct 2016

Unesco vote highlights EU split on Palestine

  • The Unesco HQ in Paris. Its director said the US funding decision could destabilise its budget (Photo: French Disko)

Just five EU countries voted "No" on admitting Palestine to the UN heritage agency, Unesco, in an indication of loyalties on the big question of UN membership.

The Czech Republic, Lithuania, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden voted against the move at the Paris-based agency on Monday (31 October).

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Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovenia and Spain voted Yes. Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and the UK abstained.

Amid wide support from Muslim, African and Latin American countries, Palestine won the vote by 107 to 14 with 52 abstentions.

The US and Israel said in response to the development they will stop funding Unesco. The move will cost the body, which sponsors science projects and protects heritage sites, $90 million a year - more than a fifth of its income. "I am worried about the stability of its budget," Unesco chief Irina Bokova noted.

For his part, Palestinian foreign minister Riad Malki said the vote is "in no way linked to our request to join the United Nations."

But the result is an indication of how EU countries might vote in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on upgrading Palestine's status to a "non-member state" like the Vatican. It also highlights divisions in EU foreign policy, with the bloc's three main powers - France, Germany and the UK - each voting a different way.

Palestine applied for full UN membership in September in a bid to protect its territory from Israeli settlements.

The application is doomed because it has no majority in the UN Security Council. Even if it did, the US would veto it. But a UNGA-level upgrade to a "non-member state" would be a diplomatic victory and would give Palestine new rights, such as bringing cases against Israel to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The EU's official position is that Israel and Palestine should resume peace talks.

Israel in the past two months authorised thousands of new homes for Jews on Palestinian land, however. Its foreign minister has launched verbal attacks on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Its recent firefight with the Gaza-based militants of Islamic Jihad also bodes ill.

Meanwhile, the new settlements are deepening Israel's isolation.

German press reported on Monday that Berlin has threatened to stop delivery of a Dolphin class submarine, capable of firing nuclear missiles, to the Jewish state over its plan to build new homes in the Gilo settlement in East Jerusalem.

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