In a symbolic ceremony to mark a ‘historic date', the Palestinian flag was yesterday raised at the Paris headquarters of Unesco — the first UN agency to admit Palestine as a member state. A Palestinian official stressed the move will help thwart Israeli measures to change ground reality, especially in occupied Jerusalem.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said it was "very moving" to see the Palestinian flag raised at the Unesco headquarters. "We hope this augurs well for Palestine becoming a member of other international organisations," he said.
"It is a historic day," Hamdan Taha, Director-General of the Antiquities Department at the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, told Gulf News. The move, he said, "restores part of the historic rights of the Palestinians in their land, history and civilisation".
Unesco, despite strong opposition from the US and Israel, voted in favour of admitting the Palestinians as a member last October. With 107 votes against 14, Palestine became the 195th member of the UN body.
The vote provoked an angry reaction from Washington, which immediately, suspended American funding to Unesco thus depriving the UN agency of nearly 22 per cent of its budget.
Israel temporarily froze the transfer of funds collected from taxes to the Palestinian National Authority.
"Israeli actions violate international law, not just Unesco regulations," Taha said.
Asked whether Unesco membership will change how Palestinians deal with Israel, Taha stressed that "surely it will give Palestine better tools in following the Israeli actions in the Occupied Territories … We also expect a better commitment from the international community in ending these practices and ending the occupation."
Unesco membership also allows Palestinians to nominate places to be added to the world heritage list. Occupied East Jerusalem is the only place listed since 1981 following a Jordanian initiative.
By Jumana Al Tamimi, Associate Editor