In Monday’s vote at a Unesco meeting to admit Palestine to full membership, Switzerland was one of 52 nations which abstained.
However, the resolution in favour of Palestinian membership of the United Nations body responsible for education, science and culture was carried by 107 votes out of the 173 members present. The fourteen countries voting against included the United States, Germany and Canada.
Switzerland followed the same line as most states of the European Union, although France, despite having previously expressed serious reservations, voted in favour.
"If Switzerland abstained in the voting, it’s because it believes that this debate should not be held in the context of an organisation whose role is a technical one, such as Unesco,” said a statement put out by Rodolphe Imhoof, Swiss permanent delegate to Unesco in Paris.
"Rather, it is up to the political organs of the UN to consider the question,” he added.
Until now, the Palestinians had only had observer status in the organisation.
The United States had threatened to withdraw its contribution to Unesco – over a fifth of the organisation’s budget – if the resolution was accepted. A spokeswoman for the US State Department said later on Monday that it would not now pay over the contribution due in November.
Israel’s ambassador to Unesco called the vote a “tragedy”, saying a vote had been forced on the organisation on “a political subject that was out of its competence”.
However, a spokesman for the Palestinian government in the West Bank said the vote was important because part of the battle with the Israeli occupation was about “attempts to erase the Palestinian history or Judaising it. The Unesco vote will help us to maintain the Palestinian traditional heritage”.