Though largely symbolic, Palestinian leaders said full membership at UNESCO, gained Monday, was a small victory. The Palestinian government launched a unilateral statehood initiative during the U.N. General Assembly in September.
Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said the vote was "regrettable, premature and undermines our shared goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East."
The vote triggered U.S. legislation enacted in the 1990s that withholds funding for any U.N. body admitting the Palestinian territories as a full member.
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said, in a statement, that she welcomed the support for the Palestinian territories but worried it would "erode UNESCO as a universal platform for dialogue."
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., a skeptic of U.N. funding and chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said UNESCO's action was "reckless."
In a statement, she called on U.S. lawmakers to go a step further and cut off funding to any U.N. agency that upgrades the status of the Palestinian territories.
"Such strong action is the only way to deter other U.N. bodies from following in UNESCO's footsteps and to prevent U.S. taxpayer dollars from paying for biased entities at the U.N.," she said.