Abbas raises Palestinian flag at UNESCO

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 13, 2011 8:04 AM
Abbas raises Palestinian flag at UNESCO

PARIS (Reuters) - President Mahmoud Abbas symbolically hoisted the Palestinian flag at the headquarters of the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO Tuesday to celebrate the Palestinians' admission in October as a full member of the organization.

Some 50 diplomatic guests watched as Abbas lifted the flag to the Palestinian national anthem and said he hoped UNESCO's move was the beginning of international recognition for Palestine. The Palestinian national anthem played as a morning of biting wind and rain gave way to a burst of sunshine.

"It is moving to see our flag raised and for it to be flying in this beautiful city of Paris among all the other states. This bodes well for Palestine becoming a member of other international institutions," Abbas said.

"We hope we will have one independent state in the future that will live side by side with Israel," he said.

The UNESCO vote was a diplomatic victory for Abbas, who in the absence of peace talks with the Jewish state has pushed for recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations, a move opposed by Israel and the United States.

In a move that has split the U.N. Security Council, Abbas is pressing for statehood for Palestinians without waiting any longer for a breakthrough in negotiations with Israel on a peace treaty to end the 63-year-old Middle East conflict.

Israel and its main ally the United States insist that only a peace treaty can establish a universally recognized Palestinian state. But the Palestinians say they have been patient through 20 years of futile talks.

Talks collapsed more than a year ago over continued Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel after a 1967 war in a move not recognized internationally.

Abbas applied on September 23 for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, to have full membership of the United Nations, which currently considers Palestine an observer "entity" only.

Since the UNESCO vote in October, Israel has pressed ahead with new settlements. The Palestinians have refused repeated Israeli calls to renew peace talks unless Israel stops building settlements on land they want for a state.

Envoys of the so-called Quartet of the European Union, United States, Russia and the United Nations will travel to Jerusalem Wednesday to try to break the deadlock.

Abbas, who still wants a U.N. Security Council vote on a resolution for a Palestinian state even though it is destined to fail because of a U.S. veto, was to meet President Nicolas Sarkozy later Tuesday.

Sarkozy has called for Abbas to take an alternative route by

asking the U.N. General Assembly to upgrade Palestine's U.N. status to just short of full membership.

(Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Mark Heinrich)