Abbas raises flag of Palestine at UNESCO

Abbas raises flag of Palestine at UNESCO

Abbas raises flag of Palestine at UNESCO

The Palestinian flag flies next to the UNESCO flag, moment after it was raised for the first time at the UNESCO in Paris. AP photo

The Palestinian flag was raised for the first time yesterday above a U.N. agency, the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, in a diplomatic victory won despite stiff resistance from the U.S. and Israel.

Attending the ceremony, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said membership in the U.N.’s education, science and culture agency represented the key first recognition of his state and he hoped other world bodies would follow suit.

“This admission is a first recognition of Palestine,” Abbas said. “It is moving to see our flag raised today at a U.N. agency. I hope that this will be a good omen for Palestine’s admission to other international organizations.” Admission to UNESCO has had no impact on the Palestinians’ bid for full U.N. membership. They would need nine votes out of 15 in the Security Council, but the United States has made clear that it would veto the bid.

Abbas said efforts were continuing to gain full U.N. membership and admission to other international institutions. “We are currently holding talks with the parties,” he said when asked about the Security Council at a press conference.

‘A step toward peace’
“We have not yet asked for a vote but this could happen at any moment. If we don’t have a majority, we will repeat our request again and again.” “We intend to address all international organizations,” he said, adding: “But we will choose the right time to do this.” The Palestinians were admitted to UNESCO in late October, when its general assembly voted 107-14 to make Palestine its 195th member.

Washington immediately suspended its funding to the U.N. body, which selects and oversees World Heritage sites and also works in areas from literacy and media freedom to science and environmental issues. The U.S. cash freeze deprived UNESCO of 22 percent of its budget, leaving a hole of $65 million this year and a $143 million shortfall for 2012-2013.

At the ceremony, Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director general, welcomed Palestine to UNESCO and said she hoped its admission would be a step toward peace with Israel. “A solution with two states living in peace and security has been long-awaited,” she said. Israel took its own retaliatory measures after the admission, by deciding to accelerate settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank and freezing the transfer of funds to the Palestinian Authority. Every month, Israel transfers tens of millions of dollars in customs duties on Palestinian-bound goods that transit through Israeli ports, but it often freezes them as a punitive measure during disagreements.

Faced with international criticism, Israel later lifted its freeze on the funds, which represent a large chunk of the Palestinian Authority’s budget. Abbas was to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy after the UNESCO ceremony and then travel on to Brussels.