On October 31, 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted overwhelmingly to admit Palestine as a full member state of the organization. Coming just more than a month after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas submitted Palestine's application for membership at the United Nations General Assembly, the UNESCO vote is the Palestinians first acceptance as a full member is any UN organization.
The vote was carried by 107 votes in favour of admission and 14 votes against, with 52 abstentions. France voted for the motion, along with almost all Arab, African, Latin American and Asian nations, including China and India. Israel, the United States, Canada and Germany were among those that voted against while Japan and Britain were two headliners of those who abstained. A two-thirds vote was required in order to pass.
Palestine’s entry will bring the number of UNESCO’s Member States to 195. For its membership to take effect, the Palestinians must sign and ratify UNESCO's constitution which is located in the archives of the government of the United Kingdom in London, England.
While the vote is considered a victory for the Palestinians, it may represent a significant "defeat" for UNESCO. Under Congressional law, the United States is prohibited from funding any United Nations organizations which accept the PLO as a full member. Subsequently, on November 1, the US withdrew its allotted $60 million payout to the body, which is 22% of their annual budget, and Israel as well withdrew its financial support, amounting to another 3% of UNESCO's budget.
“The vote to grant Palestinian membership in UNESCO is no substitute for direct negotiations, but it is deeply damaging for UNESCO,” U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said in a message. US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said the UNESCO decision “is anti-Israel and anti- peace” while other members of the US Congress have started calling for the United States to cease funding the Palestinian Authority.
Israel's vote against the motion was reportedly met with laughter within the UNESCO chamber hall. "This is a unilateral Palestinian maneuver which will bring no change on the ground but further removes the possibility for a peace agreement," said the Foreign Ministry in a statement. "This decision will not turn the Palestinian Authority into an actual state yet places unnecessary burdens on the route to renewing negotiations. Israel believes that the correct and only way to make progress in the diplomatic process with the Palestinians is through direct negotiations without preconditions."
Below is the full count from the vote: