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PLO Now Seeking Full Membership in Unesco, Two Other U.N. Bodies

The Palestine Liberation Organization escalated its diplomatic drive for international recognition Tuesday by applying for admission to the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, in the name of the “state of Palestine.”

The PLO announced at the same time that it will apply for full membership in the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, based in Rome, and the International Labor Organization, headquartered in Geneva.

PLO officials say they need these diplomatic victories to mollify hard-liners upset by Yasir Arafat’s recent conciliatory gestures toward Israel. They cite, for example, the PLO chief’s remark here last week that the organization’s 1964 charter, which calls for Israel’s destruction, is “null and void.”

In Geneva, meanwhile, the World Health Assembly was in turmoil Tuesday as it prepared to vote on the PLO’s request for full membership in the World Health Organization, with the rights of a sovereign state.

The bid precipitated a crisis because the United States served notice last week it would withhold its $73.8 million contribution to the WHO’s fiscal 1990 budget if the PLO were to be admitted.

That would be a crippling blow, forcing the U.N. agency to curtail most of its health services, of which Third World countries are major beneficiaries.

VOTE COULD COME THURSDAY

Dr. Hiroshi Nakajima, the Japanese physician who is director general of the WHO, has proposed a compromise resolution postponing the PLO’s request for a year.

In exchange, the WHO promises to expand medical assistance to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, now in the 19th month of their uprising against the Israeli occupation.

The health assembly will debate the compromise resolution, said to have the full backing of the United States and Israel, on Wednesday. A vote is possible Thursday morning.

Diplomatic observers in Geneva say there is “a chance” the compromise resolution will be adopted. Before the compromise was proposed, the PLO’s bid for membership appeared to be assured of approval.

Israeli diplomats said they believe the assembly “will be reasonable and adopt the compromise resolution.”

Nakajima is trying to convince a majority of the 166 nations belonging the WHO to back his resolution or abstain. Under the organization’s rules, a simple majority is required for admission.

The director general’s resolution makes no promises. It simply requests the director general “to improve the health conditions of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories.”

The resolution does not spell out how this will be done, what role the International Red Cross will play or whether Israel has agreed to the project.

The resolution has the backing of several Western European countries and some in the Third World: Nigeria, Costa Rica, Samoa and Fiji. The Arab states officially support the PLO’s request and are expected to vote for it.

But some say privately that its admission to the WHO could boomerang by reinforcing the Israeli government’s determination to oppose any contact with the PLO.

CONGRESSIONAL SENTIMENT STRONG

In Washington, meanwhile, a Bush administration official told Congress on Tuesday that the United States was continuing to lobby in Geneva against the PLO’s membership bid.

N. Shaw Smith, deputy assistant secretary of state for U.N. political affairs, said the United States was relieved that a vote on the resolution was put off until Thursday. It had originally been expected as early as Tuesday.

There is strong sentiment in Congress against the PLO campaign for recognition.

The House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on human rights and international organizations last week approved, by a 10-0 vote, a bill that would withhold U.S. funds to U.N. bodies that grant full membership to the Palestinian state. It was sponsored by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.).

The full Senate passed a resolution last week that supports Secretary of State James Baker’s recommendation that the United States withhold funds from the WHO if the PLO attains membership. It was sponsored by Sens. John Heinz (R-Pa.) and Paul Simon (D-III.).

The resolution supports “a halt to U.S. assessed and voluntary contributions to international organizations which grant full member status to organizations that lack key attributes of statehood.”

This presumably would extend to other U.N. organizations the PLO is seeking to join.

The PLO’s request for admission to UNESCO was formally submitted Tuesday by Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal and North Yemen. Arafat also sent a written request to UNESCO’s director general, Frederico Mayor Zaragoza.

The United States quit UNESCO in 1984 to protest its politicization and anti-Western bias.

(JTA correspondents Tamar Levy in Geneva and Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this report.)

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