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UN victory for Palestine needs no extra fallout

The Palestinian cause is just, but there should also be a way to make sure that Unesco's good work is not impaired by the backlash to Palestinians's new membership.

Palestinians won a symbolic but highly important victory on Monday when Unesco, the UN's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, awarded them full membership status, the first UN body to do so since a September request for greater recognition.

And just as quickly as the Unesco votes were tallied - 14 of the 173 voting countries objected, including the United States, Germany and Canada - Washington pulled its portion of funding for the body. With the swipe of a pen, US$60 million (Dh220 million), roughly a fifth of Unesco's annual budget, vanished. Israel is mulling a similar response.

Palestinians have waited too long for their dreams to be scuttled now. But set against America's posturing the world community has a responsibility to back its support of a Palestinian state with a solution to Unesco's new fiscal challenge.

As cries of "Vive la Palestine" rang around the assembly of delegates in Paris there was bad news ahead. The loss of millions from Unesco's coffers means somewhere in the world a village will not get clean water or a small school in a poor community could be shut down. Even a literacy programme for Afghan police is in jeopardy. It's hard to see how this is in America's interests.

The Obama administration cannot be blamed entirely for the Unesco funding freeze. Legislation from the 1990s calls for UN funds to be cancelled in the event of Palestinian statehood recognition; only an act of Congress can change that. But the current squeeze does make Mr Obama's previous promises to work for a Palestinian state seem less than genuine.

Clearly, Unesco's voters were aware of the risks. They, too, can do more. Replacing American's sizeable share of an admittedly small budget should not be an impossible task if the likes of China, Russia, Brazil and Arab countries offset their "yes" on statehood with cash to Unesco. Even average citizens can do their part, at donate.unesco.org.

When the Palestinians' statehood bid is eventually heard by the Security Council, expected to be soon, Washington's red pen is certain to be flashed again. The Unesco vote should be seen as a litmus test on how to respond.

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