PARIS - In a historical moment, President Mahmoud Abbas has raised the Palestinian flag for the first time at the headquarters of the UN cultural agency, a move seen as the first step of international recognition of an independent Palestine.
"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," Abbas told UNESCO ambassadors as he hoisted the flag on Tuesday, December 13, Reuters reported.
This bodes well for Palestine becoming a member of other international institutions.
In a diplomatic victory for Abbas, the Palestinians won admission to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in October, a move that prompted the United States to cut off funding to the agency.
UNESCO is the first UN agency the Palestinians have joined as a full member since President Abbas applied for full UN membership in September.
Among UNESCO's tasks are designating World Heritage sites, promoting education around the world, and managing a tsunami early-warning system in the Pacific.
US-sponsored peace talks collapsed last year over Israel's refusal to halt settlement building in the occupied Palestinian lands.
Since then, Abbas has been seeking statehood recognition from the United Nations.
Netanyahu has called to restart peace talks without preconditions, but Abbas says he will return to negotiations only after Israel totally freezes its settlement activity.
"We are doing our utmost to restart negotiations," Abbas told reporters.
"We can talk about security, frontiers, but Israel must stop the settlements. If that is done we will go back to the table."
The Palestinians are looking to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Al-Quds, land Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East War.
Marking a breakthrough, the hoisting of the Palestinian flag at the UNESCO was the first at any UN organization.
"We welcome any step that bolsters the Palestinian entity and demand the international community break its silence on the Israeli occupation, end its bias and recognize the full rights of the Palestinian people," said Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas administration in Gaza which is a rival of Abbas' Fatah.
President Abbas said he still wants a UN Security Council vote on a resolution for a Palestinian state even though it would be blocked by a US veto.
After the UNESCO, Abbas said they intended to apply to 16 other international institutions for full membership.
"There was a degree of resistance, but we are talking with several parties so it is put to a vote. It could happen at any time," Abbas said.
If we do not get a majority we will try again.
He did not rule out seeking a General Assembly vote ahead of the Security Council option.
"We can make our request at any moment," he said.
"We have exchanged views on whether the request will be before the Security Council or General Assembly. It will be talked about this afternoon. We shouldn't pre-judge things."