(Updates with Israeli response in seventh paragraph.)
Oct. 6 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. opposed a Palestinian effort to gain full membership in the United Nations agency that promotes education, culture and science.
The 40 members of Unesco’s executive board agreed yesterday to put the Palestinian request to a vote when the agency’s 193 members meet at the end of October. The motion must be approved by a two-thirds majority. The U.S., Germany, Romania and Latvia voted against the request, while 14 members abstained.
With Middle East peace talks stalled, Palestinians are pursuing recognition as a full member state at the United Nations and elevated status in other international bodies, including the World Trade Organization and the Council of Europe. The U.S. has opposed these steps, describing them as a distraction from a return to peace talks.
“If you care about the fate of Palestinians, if you want them to get a state, this is a diversion,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a briefing in Washington.
The Palestinian request to be recognized as a member state by the UN is now with the Security Council. Meanwhile, the so- called Quartet of the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia is pushing for talks to resume by the end of October.
Negotiations stalled shortly after they began in September 2010. Palestinians balked at returning to talks after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a freeze on settlement building in the Palestinian territories. U.S., EU and UN envoys have shuttled to the region since then, to little effect.
Israel criticized the vote and said membership in the cultural organization would not advance the goal of Palestinian statehood.
“The Palestinians’ actions at Unesco negate both the bilateral negotiations route and the Quartet’s proposal for continuing the diplomatic process,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website. “Their actions are a negative response to Israel’s and the international community’s efforts to promote the peace process.”
The chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and the chairwoman of the House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, Texas Republican Kay Granger, have raised strong objections to the Unesco vote.
Both lawmakers have called for cutting off U.S. funding for any UN entity that recognizes the Palestinians. According to Nuland, the U.S. currently supplies 22 percent of Unesco’s funding.
“Since April, I have made it clear to the Palestinian leadership that I would not support sending U.S. taxpayer money to the Palestinians if they sought statehood at the United Nations,” Granger said in a statement.
“Feeling that their efforts at the UN Security Council will fail, the Palestinian leadership is shopping around the UN system for recognition,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “This attempt to rig the process needs to be stopped dead in its tracks.”
--with assistance from Flavia Krause-Jackson at the United Nations and Jonathan Ferziger in Jerusalem. Editors: Terry Atlas, Steven Komarow, Ben Holland, Louis Meixler.
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