Israel suspends cooperation with UNESCO after Jerusalem vote
Israel suspended cooperation with UNESCO Friday after the UN cultural organisation adopted two resolutions on the occupied Palestinian territories including annexed east Jerusalem ahead of a final vote next week.
In a letter sent to UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, Education Minister Naftali Bennett accused the body of ignoring “thousands of years of Jewish ties to Jerusalem” and aiding “Islamist terror.”
“I have notified the Israel National Commission for UNESCO to suspend all professional activities with the international organisation,” he said.
Bokova distanced herself from the resolutions in a statement, saying “nowhere more than in Jerusalem do Jewish, Christian and Muslim heritage and traditions share space.”
The resolutions adopted at committee stage on Thursday refer to “Occupied Palestine” and the need to “safeguard the Palestinian cultural heritage and the distinctive character of east Jerusalem.”
They refer to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in east Jerusalem’s Old City — Islam’s third holiest site — without any reference to the site also being revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained that saying “Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount and Western Wall is like saying China has no connection to the Great Wall of China or Egypt has no connection to the pyramids.”
Bokova did not specifically mention the resolutions in her statement but did refer to the Temple Mount.
“The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city,” she said.
“To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list.”
Bennett called Bokova’s remarks “insufficient,” saying on Twitter that the “tailwind UNESCO gives terror will cease only when the organisation cancels yesterday’s outrageous decision that denies history to appease Israel haters.”
And Palestinian foreign minister Riad al-Malki slammed what he called Bokova’s “unusual and unacceptable position,” which was “an affront to the sovereignty of the Governing Body of UNESCO.”
“Bokova should focus her efforts on implementing the will of member states and preserving Jerusalem from the occupying power’s systematic colonisation,” he said in a statement.
-‘Give dialogue a chance’-
Participants said the two resolutions adopted by 24 votes to six with 26 abstentions and two absentees are to be put to UNESCO’s Executive Board on Tuesday, which generally votes with the line taken by committees.
But Michael Worbs, who chairs UNESCO’s executive board, told AFP he hoped a final vote set for Tuesday would be put off so a compromise could be worked out.
“We need more time and dialogue between the members of the board to reach a consensus,” he said, calling for the vote to be postponed.
The resolutions were put forward by Arab countries including Egypt, Lebanon and Algeria — members of the 22-strong Arab League which on Friday hailed a “historic decision”.
A statement from Said Abu Ali, deputy secretary general of the pan-Arab organisation for Palestinian affairs, said the resolutions “invalidate Israeli allegations and inventions concerning Jerusalem and Islamic holy sites.”
Washington meanwhile expressed its strong opposition.
“We are deeply concerned about these kinds of recurring politicised resolutions that do nothing to advance constructive results on the ground and we don’t believe they should be adopted,” said State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner.
The status of Jerusalem is the thorniest issue of the decades-long Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Israel captured east Jerusalem during the 1967 war and later annexed it in a move not recognised by the international community, declaring the whole city its indivisible capital.
The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their promised future state.