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Israel, Palestinians, and UNESCO culture wars

UNESCO, a cultural heritage group at the United Nations, today gave Palestinians membership. Why is Israel angry about this symbolic step?

By Staff writer / October 31, 2011

Delegates cheer after they approved the membership of Palestine in a vote of 107-14 with 52 abstentions, during the session of United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in Paris, Monday. Palestine became a full member of the UN cultural and educational agency, in a highly divisive move that the United States and other opponents say could harm renewed Mideast peace efforts.

Thibault Camus/AP

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The members of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted overwhelmingly to admit Palestine as a full member today, setting off furious Israeli denunciations and a nervous exploration of options by the Obama administration.

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The vote comes in the context of the currently stalled Palestinian push for full UN recognition – a step Obama has promised to veto if it comes before the United Nations Security Council. The rhetoric on today's vote is already heated. The vote was 107 for, 14 against, and 52 abstentions. I couldn't find a full breakdown of the vote yet. But France voted for, as did China and India along with most of the rest of Asia, Latin America, and Africa. The US, Israel, Canada, and Germany voted against. Britain and Japan were among those who abstained.

Israel says the vote makes peace harder to achieve. But it's hard to see how membership in UNESCO (which coordinates educational exchanges, certifies "World Heritage Sites," and is generally the UN's culture wing) makes peace less possible. The vote reflects the broad views of the UN's member states: That it's time for a country called "Palestine" to be admitted as a member to the UN.

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