Palestinians celebrate UNESCO's approval of the Palestinian membership
Palestinians hold placards in Gaza City to celebrate UNESCO's approval of the Palestinian membership. The Palestinians insist they will seek membership in more world bodies in the face of US and Israeli opposition, even as all sides suffer damage in the campaign for UN statehood. © - AFP/File
Palestinians celebrate UNESCO's approval of the Palestinian membership
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Tim Witcher, AFP
Last updated: November 3, 2011

Palestinian UN campaign promises more tensions

The Palestinians insist they will seek membership in more world bodies in the face of US and Israeli opposition, even as all sides suffer damage in the campaign for UN statehood.

After the UNESCO vote this week to accept Palestinian membership, more than a dozen other UN agencies and international bodies are on the Palestinians' checklist -- with full UN membership as the ultimate prize.

The Palestinians hope to become signatories to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, according to the head of their UN delegation, Riyad Mansour.

That would be followed by similar applications at the World Intellectual Property Organization, the UN Conference on Trade and Development and the UN Industrial Organization, Mansour told AFP.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, International Postal Union, and International Telecommunications Union and others could all potentially allow Palestinian membership, diplomats and officials said.

"We are exploring all the possibilities. We believe that doors have been opened for us to join other entities and agencies," Mansour said.

That would further infuriate Israel and the United States, both of which fiercely oppose Palestinian UN membership, insisting that only direct Israeli-Palestinian talks can resolve the Middle East conflict.

After the vote at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Israel announced more construction in Palestinian territories and froze crucial tax payments to the Palestinian authority.

Under a law which forbids funding for international bodies that allow Palestinian membership, the United States cancelled a $60 million grant to UNESCO and would probably have to do the same for other agencies.

The Palestinians have defended their decision to join UNESCO.

"If we join such an organization, join humanity on a good thing, how is that radicalization? Who are we harming?" said Mansour, who called Israel's retaliatory measures this week a "radicalization."

The UN Security Council will soon have to decide what to do about the full membership bid filed by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on September 23.

The council's membership committee meets again Thursday and must produce a final report for a November 11 meeting.

The United States, as a permanent member, has vowed to veto any Security Council move for Palestinian statehood.

But it is anxious to avoid an embarrassing vote to block the bid, and has been desperately lining up "no" votes and abstentions from other members.

No date for a final vote has yet been set.

The Palestinian campaign is born out of mounting frustration at the peace process deadlock. The two sides have not held direct talks aimed at resolving the decades-old conflict in more than a year.

Many experts say Abbas is determined to press the UN campaign to the limit.

"The Palestinian Authority feels strengthened, domestically and internationally," said Mansouria Mokhefi, head of Middle East programs at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris.

They have "overwhelming support from a majority of countries around the world, except the United States. Now they are saying to the international community: 'It is time to show your colors.'"

With a "radicalization" on both sides, the peace talks will undoubtedly go through "considerable stress," Mokhefi predicted.

Some diplomats have warned, however, that the Palestinian leadership could suffer from renewed tensions with Israel and the United States and face its own backlash.

US ambassador Susan Rice has said that even a UN General Assembly vote in favor of super observer status, which Washington could not block, would not amount to Palestinian sovereignty.

"The reality is nothing is going to change," she has said several times.

Other envoys have predicted that the raised hopes in the Palestinian territories could even lead to violence.

Israel is also suffering. Its approval of another 2,000 housing units in the occupied territories and the withholding of Palestinian taxes has drawn criticism from Washington, the United Nations and Europe.

The United States is meanwhile seeing its image tarnished by its opposition to the campaign.

Timothy Wirth, president of the UN Foundation, a US group which backs UN causes, said withdrawing funds from UN agencies would damage US policies and companies.

"With a clear majority of countries around the world prepared to back Palestinian ambitions at the United Nations, the United States is poised to lose its leverage over several UN bodies that advance American interests and promote our ideals," the former Democratic senator said in a commentary.

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