x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Palestinian flag raised at Unesco headquarters

The Palestinian flag was raised for the first time today above a UN agency, the Unesco headquarters in Paris, in a diplomatic victory won despite stiff resistance from the US and Israel.

The Palestinian anthem played during the raising of the flag to mark its entry as the 195th member of Unesco in Paris.
The Palestinian anthem played during the raising of the flag to mark its entry as the 195th member of Unesco in Paris.

PARIS // The Palestinian flag was raised for the first time today above a UN agency, the Unesco headquarters in Paris, in a diplomatic victory won despite stiff resistance from the US and Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president, looked on as the flag was raised and the Palestinian anthem played. Palestine were admitted to the body in late October, when the Unesco general assembly voted 107-14 to become the 195th member.

Mr Abbas said it was a key first recognition.

"This admission is a first recognition of Palestine," he said. "It is moving to see our flag raised today at a UN agency. I hope that this will be a good omen for Palestine's admission to other international organisations."

"Our admission is a source of pride. Palestine, the land where civilisations met ... is having a new rebirth."

"Today we are members of Unesco and we hope we can have an independent state, living side-by-side with Israel in a spirit of peace."

At the ceremony, Unesco director general Irina Bokova welcomed Palestine to the agency 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. "I want to believe that this admission to Unesco is a chance to show that peace is also built through education and culture."

The result has angered the United States, Israel's staunch ally, which says the Palestinians must first reach a peace agreement with Israel before they can become full members of an international organisation.

Washington immediately suspended its funding to the UN body, which selects and oversees World Heritage sites and also works in areas from literacy and media freedom to science and environmental issues.

US President Barack Obama said he had frank and firm words with his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy, voicing Washington's disappointment because Paris had supported the Palestinian Unesco bid.

The US cash freeze deprived the organisation of 22 per cent of its budget, leaving a hole of US$65 million (Dh238.8m) this year and a US$143m shortfall for 2012/13.

This forced Ms Bokova to announce drastic savings, even though some countries pledged exceptional contributions, among them Indonesia with US$10m and Gabon with US$2m.

Israel, for its part, took its own retaliatory measures, 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.

Admission to Unesco has had no effect on the Palestinians' bid for full UN 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.

Mr Abbas, who reiterated last week that he would push on with his campaign for UN membership, will meet Mr Sarkozy after the Unesco ceremony. He will then head to Brussels, after postponing planned visits to London and Ankara to next month.