Palestinians aim to join 16 other UN agencies

It's not just Unesco: The Palestinians' top envoy in Geneva said on Tuesday he believes that joining the UN agency for culture, education and science will "open the door" to joining 16 other UN agencies within weeks.

Ibrahim Khraishi, the top Palestinian envoy at the UN in Geneva, told The Associated Press that Palestinian diplomats are now planning to capitalize on Monday's landslide vote to allow the Palestinians into Unesco by preparing papers to join the other UN agencies and a variety of other international organizations.

"Now we are studying when we are going to move for full membership on the other UN agencies," Khraishi said. "It's our target for (us to join) the international organizations and the UN agencies."

He said the Unesco vote sets a precedent to allowing such broad memberships.

"We are working on it, one by one," he said. "Because it's now precedent that we are a full member in one of the biggest and one of the most important UN agencies, Unesco. So it will open the door for us now to go further in our efforts to join other UN agencies."

The Obama administration cut off funding to Unesco after Monday's vote, and US officials warned of a "cascade" effect at other UN bodies that might follow Unesco's lead.

The Palestinians have triggered a long-standing congressional ban on US funding to UN bodies that recognize Palestine as a state before an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is reached.

The UN agency campaign comes as Palestinian officials are seeking full membership in the United Nations, but that effort is still under examination and the US has pledged a veto unless there is a peace deal with Israel.

Becoming a Unesco member could give the Palestinians an advantage in joining the UN World Intellectual Property Organization, whose rules say membership is "equally open" to those already a member of other UN specialized agencies.

But it's not clear whether that means membership is automatic, and Geneva-based spokeswoman for the organization Samar Shamoon declined to comment on that Tuesday.

Assistant US Secretary of State Esther Brimmer emphasized Monday that Palestinian membership in the UN World Intellectual Property Organization, known as WIPO, "could have serious implications for US leadership in this organization," which supports global infrastructure helping US companies to protect their business interests around the world, according to State Department briefing notes.

"The United States is a leading global voice on issues related to patent, copyright, and trademark matters, and should the US be unable to provide its contributions to WIPO, the impact of that voice could be significantly diminished," the US agency said.

Of course, a withdrawal of US funding from WIPO also could leave US companies vulnerable.

Fadela Chaib, spokeswoman for the World Health Organization, another Geneva-based UN agency, said any nation that is part of the UN can join. For those that are not part, she said, the annual World Health Assembly can approve membership by a simple majority vote if a written request is received at least 30 days beforehand.

Cutting US funding for WHO would hurt, she conceded.

"Of course we need it. The US funding is quite important, I guess for all the UN organizations," Chaib told reporters. "It's a vital funding need for WHO."


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