Unity urged over Palestinian UNESCO membership

Foreign Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Riyad Al-Malki delivers a speech on October 31, 2011 at the headquarters of UNESCO in Paris (AFP Photo / MIGUEL MEDINA)
Russia hopes the US, Canada and Israel will remain active in UNESCO following the UN organization’s decision to grant Palestinian membership, the president's special envoy for international cultural co-operation, Mikhail Shvydkoi, said on Wednesday.

­This week, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) approved Palestine's application for membership with 137 member-states voting in favor of granting status to Palestine. Fourteen member states, including Germany, the United States and Israel opposed the decision.

Motivated by UNESCO's decision to grant them membership, Palestinian officials said they wanted to seize the momentum and expand their presence at the United Nations. The Palestinians are seeking unilateral moves toward statehood as peace talks with Israel, which continues to construct Jewish settlements on disputed land, have collapsed.

Shvydkoi said the reaction of the US and Canadian governments to UNESCO’s decision were easily predictable.

"In general, it's a senseless step to comment on the decision of the US and Canadian governments," he said. "The US has firm guidelines in this respect. Everybody realized well enough what will follow Palestine's accession."

Shvydkoi said it would be unfortunate if specific countries halted their participation in UNESCO which last year infuriated Israel by defining West Bank holy sites sacred to both Jews and Muslims as "Palestinian."

"Withdrawal of the US, Canada and Israel from active participation in UNESCO is not good news," the envoy said. "The fact of the matter is not that the organization loses big payers, but that the presence of such countries in the organization is very important."

Meanwhile, the head of the State Duma's international affairs committee, Konstantin Kosachev, predicted that the Palestinian National Authority may become a fully-fledged UN member no later than 2012.

“If [accession to the United Nations] does not happen this year, it is evident that there is a high probability of Palestine's accession to the UN next year," he said.

He stressed that such a designation for the Palestinians would be extremely important for the future success of the Middle East settlement.

"The unequal status of the negotiating sides [Palestine and Israel] in many respects makes the dialogue senseless. There can be no alternative to the talks," Kosachev said. "If Palestine gets fully-fledged international recognition, the conflict settlement process will proceed much faster."

The Russian Duma member agreed that Palestine's recent accession to UNESCO is an important stage on its path towards recognition.

The parliamentarian expressed confidence that Palestine's UNESCO membership will become a signal for the United Nations as well as other countries.

Kosachev also criticized the reaction of Canada and the United States who expressed their protest by announcing they would stop the financing of UNESCO.

"Canada and the United States politicize this situation. This is incorrect," he said.

He also welcomed the fact that the majority of other member-states of UNESCO, including Russia and France, "did not shiver in the face of financial blackmailing and did not abandon their positions."

The proclaimed State of Palestine has been officially recognized by 127 countries. It is a member of the League of Arab States, but does not enjoy the status of a fully-fledged UN member.

Robert Bridge, RT