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On October 31, 2011, UNESCO granted Palestine a full membership. The inclusion of Palestine in the United Nations agency has been considered an endorsement of the international community of the long-standing efforts of Palestine to gain the status of an independent country. Among the UNESCO members, 107 endorsed the membership resolution while fourteen nations voted against it. The Palestinian Foreign Minister said “Palestine has the right to a place on the map”. USA, a traditional ally of Israel, has criticized the move, and believes that the inclusion of Palestine will undermine the peace process between Israel and Palestine. Israel described the move as “tragic”.

The Vote Count

The members of UNESCO went to vote one-by-one in the matter of Palestine’s inclusion into UNESCO. Every vote supporting the inclusion of Palestine was cheered. One member shouted “Long live Palestine” in French. Of the 185 members entitled to vote at the UNESCO, 173 were present and voted. Fifty-two nations chose not to vote and abstained. A majority of eighty one votes were required for UNESCO to adopt the resolution. 107 nations voted in favor of Palestine’s induction into the United Nations agency while fourteen voted against the resolution. USA, Germany, Canada, and Israel were against Palestine’s induction as they believe that this would hamper the peace process in the Middle East. China, India, France, Brazil, South Africa, and the Russian Federation were among those voted in favor of Palestine’s inclusion. The United Kingdom abstained from voting.

International Reactions

Within hours of Palestine's admission as a UNESCO member, the United States initiated punitive action cutting off its funds to the UN cultural and educational agency. The Department of State spokesperson said that the US was compelled to withdraw its contribution to UNESCO as a result of a law passed in 1990. The terms of the law prohibit the United States from funding any UN agency which admits the Palestine as a member. The spokesperson also said that the decision was regrettable and premature. The US $70 million fund contribution of the USA was withdrawn. The United States contributions amount to about 22% of UNESCO’s annual budget.

Israel was vehement in criticizing the move. The Israeli foreign ministry issued a statement which said that Palestine's inclusion was a unilateral Palestinian maneuver which will bring no change on the ground but further removes the possibility for a peace agreement. The Israeli representative to UNESCO, Nimrod Barkan said that “The organization of science has opted to adopt a resolution which is a resolution of science fiction” He also said that this may hurt the peace process.

Palestine was jubilant. Riyad al-Maliki, the Palestinian Foreign Minister said that the resolution was one of the important tracks that Palestinians needed to take to move towards complete liberation. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas stated that the votes that went in favor of Palestine’s admission are reflective of the international community's support for the formation of the Palestinian state. The UN Secretary General said that coming up with a negotiated solution to the long standing crisis in Palestine should be considered urgent.


The major concern following the admission of Palestine is the loss of stability that UNESCO may face. The Director General of UNESCO said that she feared that a lack of stability and cohesion in the agency may seriously undermine all the good work done by UNESCO in the past sixty-six years. She asked the member nations to commit to the values shared by UNESCO members. The budgetary concerns were also among the major worries shared by the members. With USA, the major contributor, having withdrawn financial support, the question that looms large now is if UNESCO’s work will be diminished and if the agency shall be as effective as it has been in the past.

After being granted the membership at UNESCO Palestine has applied for membership in sixteen other United Nations agencies including the World Health Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the International Labor Organization, the International Telecommunications Organization, and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The decision deeply concerned Israeli authorities.

Last Updated on: September 30th, 2021
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