UNESCO committed to Palestine

UNESCO’S 59-member executive board has approved by consensus, two resolutions with regard to the status of Jerusalem and the Israeli – Palestinian conflict in general.

Background

UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) is known for its work to preserve heritage, including maintaining a list of World Heritage sites, and programmes to promote education in developing countries.

In 2011, UNESCO granted Palestinians full membership which didn’t go well with the US and Israel. It led to the suspension of payments to the organization by the US and Israel. Prior to this the United States contributed $80 million annually, which was 22% of UNESCO’s budget.

In October 2016, UNESCO’S World Heritage Committee passed a resolution that disregarded any Jewish ties to the Temple Mount. Since 2009, UNESCO has passed 71 resolutions condemning Israel.

Analysis

The PX Commission of the Executive Board of UNESCO adopted resolutions 28 and 29 in its 205th plenary meeting, titled "Occupied Palestine”.

It states that the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem are "an integral part of the Occupied Palestinian territory" and condemned the construction of the security fence aimed at altering “the character, status and demographic composition of the Occupied Palestinian territory."

The resolutions were submitted by Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, and approved within minutes at the commission’s meeting, which includes the 59 members of UNESCO’s Executive Committee. Israel is not a member of the Executive Committee. The resolutions also refer to Israel as "occupier" and condemn Israeli army violations against Palestinian universities and regret Israel’s excavation projects in east Jerusalem.

UNESCO's assistant director-general for external relations, Nicolas Kassianides, said at the meeting that the resolutions were adopted following close consultations between the member states, and welcoming "the spirit of constructive dialogue that enabled to reach a consensus." Kassianides further said the adoption of the resolution by consensus projects a positive momentum particularly in efforts by Palestinians Jordan and Israel to reach an agreement."

A year ago, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee declared that the old city of Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs were "Palestinian” heritage sites. In 2010, a report by the organization branded the Tomb of Rachel a mosque.

When Audrey Azoulay took office last year as head of UNESCO, a compromise was achieved, with the resolutions adopted as an annexe, and not inside the body of the text.

Israel announced in December that it intended to withdraw from UNESCO after the US made a similar announcement. Netanyahu then commented that "in withdrawing from UNESCO in 2017, Israel and the United States made a clear moral statement that UNESCO’s anti-Semitism will no longer be tolerated. If and when UNESCO ends its bias against Israel, stops denying history and starts standing up for the truth, Israel will be honored to rejoin."

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon issued a statement condemning the decision of the Executive Council of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to protect the Palestinian heritage. The statement said that “this is an additional proof for those who did not understand why the United States and Israel withdrew from UNESCO. This proves once again that UNESCO is a body based on lies, biases and deliberate action against us. Israel will not be a member of an organisation that is trying to rewrite history and accept to be exploited by our enemies.”

Assessment

Our assessment is that over the years UNESCO has criticized Israeli government policies in the territories. Some of the resolutions passed by the UNESCO did not recognize the link between Judaism and the Temple Mount. This has caused a deep rift in the relationship between Israel and UNESCO.

The organization has been trying to encourage diplomatic relations between the countries but are unable to do so because of their alleged negationism and historical revisionism.

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