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Middle East
Palestine flag raised at UNESCO headquarters
UN cultural agency holds flag raising ceremony in Paris to welcome Palestine as member despite controversy.
Last Modified: 30 Jun 2012 02:06
UNESCO Director Bokova, left, was joined by Palestinian President Abbas at Tuesday's flag raising in Paris [Reuters]

Palestinians have raised their flag at the headquarters of the UN cultural agency in Paris in a historic move and symbolic boost for their push for an independent state.

Cheers rose alongside the red, black, white and green flag during a ceremony held in the rain on Tuesday.

"This is truly a historic moment," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said at the ceremony, his speech punctuated by rousing applause and standing ovations.

"We hope this will be a good auspice for Palestine to become a member of other organisations," he said.

Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland, reporting from Paris, said, "it was a moment steeped in symbolism".

Palestine was admitted as a member of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in an October vote that prompted the US to cut off funds to the agency.

Two US laws required the halt in the flow of funds to the agency, forcing it to scale back literacy and development programmes in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and the new nation of South Sudan.

The Palestinians also are seeking full-fledged UN membership, but Washington has threatened to veto that move, saying a negotiated settlement with Israel should come first.

Abbas said on Tuesday that efforts were continuing to gain full UN membership and admission to other international institutions.

"We are currently holding talks with the parties. We have not yet asked for a vote but this could happen at any moment," he said. 

"If we don't have a majority, we will repeat our request again and again."

'Tense diplomatic atmosphere'

Al Jazeera's Rowland said: "President Abbas made it quite clear that it was an important and significant step on the road towards Palestinian statehood. And he also reiterated his willingness to restart peace talks with Israel.

"It seems that everyone agrees that negotiations are not in any way ruled out by this move but [it] certainly has led to a more tense diplomatic atmosphere," she said.

IN VIDEO


The US cut off UNESCO funding over the Palestine vote

US officials have said UNESCO's decision risked undermining the international community's work towards a comprehensive Middle East peace plan, and could be a distraction from the aim of restarting direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The US contributes $80m annually in dues - 22 per cent of UNESCO's overall budget - and its 2011 contribution was not yet in when the laws took effect, immediately throwing UNESCO into crisis.

Several countries are lobbying the US to renew its funding.

"The suspension of the lion’s share of the funding to UNESCO really threatens the UN body's ability to continue with very important, particularly educational programmes, some of which are in Palestinian territories themselves," our correspondent said.

"Really the problem now for UNESCO is to find other donors, other member states to come forward and bring that money.

"There is a serious question over the future ability of UNESCO to carry out some of its very important projects."

UNESCO is known for its programme to protect cultures via its World Heritage sites, but its core mission also includes activities such as helping eradicate poverty, ensuring clean water, teaching girls to read and promoting freedom of speech.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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