UNESCO mulls Palestinian membership bid

Palestine has won partnership status from the Council of Europe, the continent`s main human rights body.

Paris: The United Nations` cultural agency has begun to review a draft resolution from the Palestinian delegation for full membership of the body, a UNESCO source said on Wednesday, the latest move by the Palestinians to seek statehood recognition.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in September submitted a formal application to the UN Security Council for membership in the United Nations, ignoring a US threat to veto the measure if it is put to vote as well as threats from US members of Congress to restrict US aid to the Palestinians.

In an effort to ramp up the pressure on the United Nations, the Palestinians have also been looking at alternative institutions that may recognize its statehood.

On Tuesday, it won partnership status from the Council of Europe, the continent`s main human rights body.

"At present the resolution being discussed concerns submitting membership of Palestine to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation`s General Conference which will then be the organ that decides whether Palestine is admitted or not, the source said.

The 58-member board reviews the draft resolution and then decides whether to pass it on for voting at the body`s General Conference, which runs from October 25 to November 10 and involves the full 193 members of Paris-based UNESCO.

The Palestinians have had observer status at UNESCO since 1974. To gain full membership, so-called "states" that are not members of the UN may be admitted to UNESCO with a two-thirds majority of the General Conference.

It was not clear whether Palestine would need to be a state for its bid to succeed.

Vote due

The executive board was expected to vote on the draft on Wednesday but ad hoc groups appointed to negotiate further could delay it.

An official at the Palestinian mission declined to comment.

The latest bid has already sparked anger in the United States with the chairman of the foreign affairs committee at the US House of Representatives, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, calling for the US to cut off funds to UNESCO if the Palestinian request is approved.

"Feeling that their efforts at the UN Security Council will fail, the Palestinian leadership is shopping around the UN system for recognition," Ros-Lehtinen said.

"This attempt to rig the process needs to be stopped dead in its tracks. Our contributions are our strongest leverage at the UN, and should be used to stand up for our interests and allies and stop this dangerous Palestinian scheme."

France, which has urged the United Nations to grant the Palestinians the status of observer state -- like the Vatican -- while outlining a one-year roadmap to peace with Israel, said UNESCO was not the right forum to seek recognition.

"The priority is to revive negotiations," Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said. "We consider that UNESCO is not the appropriate place and the General Conference is not the right moment."

Envoys from the Middle East "Quartet" -- the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States -- will meet in Brussels on Sunday to try to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Bureau Report

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