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PALESTINE/ Herzog (Haaretz): UNESCO puts a wrench in the peace process

Michael Herzog comments on the UNESCO vote that admitted the Palestinian Authority as a full member of their organization, on reactions in Israel, and on what will happen next.

Jerusalem   (photo ANSA) Jerusalem (photo ANSA)

Since yesterday, the Palestinian Authority is a full member of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. With 107 yes votes, 14 votes of no, and 52 countries abstaining, the UN organism welcomed the Palestinians. Ilsussidiario.net interviewed Michael Herzog, a journalist with Haaretz on the acceptance and on reactions in Israel.

How has the news of the Palestinian acceptance in UNESCO been received in Israel?
The news was received rather gloomily because Israel objected to and voted against the acceptance (as one of the 14), though not because Israel is against the concept of a Palestinian state. In fact, Israel, including the current government, accepts the concept of Palestinian statehood but has said that the state should come about as a result of negotiations. In any case, the Palestinians did not wait until the Security Council or the General Assembly decided on the issue of statehood, and they preempted it with this move in UNESCO. The problem, from an Israeli point of view and from the point of view of the Israeli government, is that, once they are accepted as a state, they can use this to do many practical things. For example, they already declared their intent to ask the UN to declare certain sites in the West Bank as Heritage Sites. If they decide to declare a site in Jerusalem, it could be a bone of contention with Israel because of the sensitivity of Jerusalem. So, in practical terms, it poses a problem. I think, all in all, it adds to the burden on Israeli-Palestinian relations.

What does this mean for the road map and for the peace negotiations?
From an Israeli point of view, this distances the prospect of a peace process because it signals that the Palestinians despaired of negotiations and preferred to go to the UN and extricate what they can from the UN instead of negotiating with Israel. That is how this is being interpreted by the Israeli government. I think the chances for a peace process are unfortunately not as good as they were. As someone who has been part of the peace process for almost twenty years, I think it is really unfortunate.

What is Israel going to do now? What are the possible counter-moves?
It is not clear and no decision has been made yet. The Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs just announced that Israel is considering a cessation of cooperation with UNESCO, but the decision has not been made yet. As you know, the US has been obliged by law since 1990 to stop funding for UNESCO if they accept Palestine as a state, but the Israelis are weighing their options and I think they will decide later this week. For now, they are considering the cessation but, of course it has to be decided by the government and the Prime Minister.

Is it right, in your opinion, that the United States will probably stop funding UNESCO?