UNESCO Admits 'Palestine' As Full Member

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Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: United Nations' cultural agency, UNESCO, has voted to admit Palestine as a full member. UNESCO is the agency that protects historical heritage sites and works to improve literacy and cultural understanding. The vote was 107 to 14 with 52 abstentions. The US voted against. The Palestinian Authority is calling this decision a symbolic victory because it says what it really wants in full membership in the UN, recognizing Palestine as an independent state. The World's Matthew Bell is in Jerusalem. What is the reaction to this UNESCO vote among Palestinians?

Matthew Bell: The Palestinians, Lisa, are certainly celebrating this vote today. It was something like 2/3 of the 173 members of UNESCO voted in favor of Palestine's membership. That's going to be seen as real international support for Palestinian statehood and that overall effort by the Palestinians to seek full membership at the UN. Of course, the United States has promise to veto anything that goes into the Security Council on that, but again, this is a symbolic victory. President Mahmoud Abbas today said this is a vote for the sake of peace. He said it also shows international consensus on support for the legitimate Palestinian national rights of our people.

Mullins: Is the Israeli government weighing in on this?

Bell: Absolutely. They say the reject the decision at the general assembly today. They call this a unilateral Palestinian move, and also with the United States they say the only way the Palestinians can realize their political aspirations ultimately is to sit down at the negotiating table with Israel and working out a final 2-state solution.

Mullins: Now the United States as you said, voted against. The US is now canceling funding for the UN cultural body, UNESCO. What's the significance of that?

Bell: It's very significant for UNESCO because the United States is its biggest funder. It supplies about $70 million, that's more than 20% of the overall budget. And the Obama administration has no recourse. There was legislation passed in the 1990s that would require US funding to be cutoff for any UN body that recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization as a full blown state.

Mullins: And how does it bode for Palestinians? I mean just taking alone the membership now in UNESCO, what does it mean for them?

Bell: Well, I think for specific things it could be very important. For example, the big example that the Palestinian leadership will bring up now is the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which they say is desperately in need of repair. This could provide funding opportunity for them to do renovations on the church. Another political aspect of it is the Palestinians say look, we have these holy sites, these world heritage sites and they are in Palestinian territory and we should be in control of them, and the world should recognize that.

Mullins: All right, reporting from Jerusalem, The World's Matthew Bell. Thank you.

Bell: You're welcome, Lisa.