Paris: UNESCO’s executive board on Tuesday approved a resolution that Israel says denies the deep historic Jewish connection to holy sites in Jerusalem — and that has angered Israel’s government and many Jews around the world.
The board adopted the measure by consensus in its morning session at Paris-based UNESCO. A draft form of the resolution had already been approved by a commission last week.
The resolution is not expected to have direct impact on Jerusalem itself, but it deepened tensions within UNESCO, which is also facing a diplomatic dispute between Japan and China that threatens funding.
The resolution, titled “Occupied Palestine,” is the latest of several measures at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) over decades that Israelis see as evidence of ingrained anti-Israel bias within the United Nations, where Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters. Israel’s concern has mounted since UNESCO states admitted Palestine as a member in 2011.
Israel last week suspended its ties with UNESCO over the draft resolution, which uses only the Islamic name for a hilltop compound sacred to both Jews and Muslims. The site includes the Western Wall, a remnant of the biblical temple and the holiest site where Jews can pray.
Jews refer to the hilltop compound in Jerusalem’s Old City as the Temple Mount. Muslims refer to it as al-Haram al-Sharif, Arabic for the Noble Sanctuary, and it includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock. It is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
Israel had already suspended its funding to UNESCO when Palestinian membership was approved, along with the United States, which used to provide 22% of the agency’s budget.
“We won’t negotiate and we won’t take part in these ugly games,” the Israeli ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, told AP after the ratification. “There is no place for these games in UNESCO. This noble organization was established to preserve history, not to rewrite it.”
The longstanding dispute is also linked to Israel’s refusal to grant visas to UNESCO experts to go in the country and assess the level of preservation of the holy sites in Jerusalem.
Elias Sanbar, Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO, told the AP this refusal to allow a UNESCO mission was a “very big problem.”
“The aim of the mission was not to say that Israel was an occupying power or not, the whole world knows it,” he told the AP. “The aim was to say: according to the field of competence of UNESCO, are the monuments and historical sites of UNESCO well-preserved, and if restored, well-restored according to the rules of restoration?”
On this issue, Shama-Hacohen said “there will not be any mission to Jerusalem under political decisions —with the words ‘occupying power’ with false allegations of Israel, we will never agree to such a mission. Jerusalem is an open city. Jerusalem is a transparent city.”
Israel and the Palestinian authority are not members of the executive board of UNESCO. AP