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Palestinians Win Membership in UNESCO

The United Nations cultural agency has granted the Palestinians full membership.

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization approved a controversial Palestinian bid for full membership Monday during its general assembly in Paris by a vote of 107 to 14. Fifty-two countries abstained.

UNESCO is the first U.N. agency that the Palestinians have attempted to join since asking for full membership in the UN in September. It previously had observer status at the agency.

Among the countries that voted against the membership bid were the United States, Canada and Germany. Britain abstained.

The United States, under legislation adopted nearly two decades ago, has said it will withhold about $80 million in funding to the agency, or more than 20 percent of its annual budget, if the Palestinians are accepted for membership.

Unlike in the UN Security Council, where its permanent members such as the United States hold veto power over legislation, there is no veto in UNESCO.

The United States had boycotted UNESCO for nearly 20 years until 2003, when it returned to the agency.

In November, 2010, UNESCO adopted several proposals by Arab states classifying Jewish and Muslim holy sites. It referred to Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem as a mosque, in addition to using its Jewish designation – “Rachel’s Tomb” – and said the Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs was “an integral part of the occupied Palestinian Territories.” It called both landmarks “Palestinian sites.”

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