By Ray Fleming

PALESTINE was accepted as a full member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) yesterday by a vote of 107 member states in favour with 14 opposed and 52 abstaining. This has no direct effect on Palestine's pending bid to become a full member of the United Nations itself which is currently under review by the Security Council. However it is possible that the United States will show its displeasure with this development by cutting its financial support for UNESCO or even by leaving the Organisation as it did for almost ten years from the mid-1980s over “freedom of the press” issues.

The US financial contribution to UNESCO is 50 million pounds, about 22 per cent of its overall income. Last week US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Palestine's UNESCO membership would be “inexplicable” and could not replace negotiations for what she called “fast-track” progress to its independence. Yesterday US Ambassador Rice at the UN said the development would be “deeply damaging to UNESCO” but gave no reason. The Israel Ambassador to UNESCO said: “UNESCO's role is science, not science fiction” and that the vote could “force” a drastic cut in its income. However, not all nations will understand the connection between long-standing though unproductive Israeli-Palestinian negotiation on borders, Jerusalem and settlements, and the latter's membership of UNESCO.