The United States, Canada, Germany and Holland voted against Palestinian membership. Brazil, Russia, China, India, South Africa and France voted in favor. Britain and Italy abstained.
Soon after the vote, the United States cut funding to the organization because of a US law that bars funding an organization that has Palestine as a member before an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is reached.
That decision will have an immediate effect: The United States won’t make a $60 million payment scheduled for November, according to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
UNESCO depends heavily on US funding — Washington provides 22 percent of its budget or about $80 million a year — but has survived without it in the past. The United States pulled out of UNESCO under President Ronald Reagan, rejoining two decades later under President George W. Bush.
Monday’s vote is a grand symbolic victory for the Palestinians, but it alone won’t make Palestine into a state. The issues of borders for an eventual Palestinian state, security troubles and other disputes that have thwarted Middle East peace for decades remain unresolved.
Huge cheers went up in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization after delegates approved the membership in a vote of 107-14 with 52 abstentions. Eighty-one votes were needed for approval in a hall with 173 UNESCO member delegations present.
In a surprise, France voted “yes” — and the room erupted in cheers and applause.
“Long live Palestine!” someone shouted in the hall, in French, at the unusually tense and dramatic meeting of UNESCO’s General Conference.
The vote highlighted divisions over foreign policy within the European Union, some of whose 27 members voted for and some against Palestinian membership.
Austrian UNESCO ambassador Ursula Plassnik, whose country voted in favor, said she regretted the European Union could not arrive at a common position on the Palestinian issue.
The Palestinians obtained backing from two-thirds of UNESCO’s members to become the 195th member of UNESCO, with status as “an observer entity.” Of 173 countries that voted from a possible 185, 107 voted in favor, 14 voted against, 52 abstained and 12 were absent.
Forty representatives of the 58-member board has voted in favor of putting the matter to a vote earlier this month, with four — the United States, Germany, Romania and Latvia — voting against and 14 abstaining.
Israel called the vote a “tragedy.”
“This resolution is a tragedy for UNESCO … UNESCO deals in science and not science fiction and nevertheless (UNESCO) adopted the science fiction reality,” said Nimrod Barkan, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO.
Israel has said the Palestinian bid would amount to politicization of the agency that would undermine its ability to carry out its mandate.