Former foreign minister Tizpi Livni criticized the UN’s cultural body for its repeated decisions against Israel and called on the organization to reject a further provocative vote on the flash point West Bank city of Hebron set for Sunday.
The Palestinians are pushing to have Hebron — the site of the Tomb of the Patriarchs — declared as a “World Heritage Site in Danger” during the upcoming World Heritage Committee meeting.
Speaking Friday at the UNESCO International Conference on the Empowerment of Women in Paris, Livni, a member of the opposition Zionist Union party, said she had seriously considered skipping the event due to previous “false” decisions against the Jewish state, Ynet reported.
“I am an opposition leader in Israel, but I am not in opposition to the history of my people and not an opposition to the truth,” Livni said. “These decisions will not harm my people’s connection to [Jerusalem and Hebron], but they will hurt UNESCO and the ability to promote common interests.”
UNESCO has come under fire by Israel, the US and other nations for a series of moves deemed anti-Israel, most recently in May when its executive board ratified a resolution denying any Jewish legal or historical Israeli links to Jerusalem and calling Israel an “occupying power” in its capital.
That resolution also criticized the Israeli government for archaeological projects in the capital and in Hebron and lambasted its naval blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
“UNESCO must not be turned into a political arena,” Livni said during the UN body’s conference. “There are representatives from countries that have conflicts between them, but they must be left outside the building. Unfortunately, there are member states that exploit UNESCO for political purposes and to open conflicts.”
In a video (Hebrew) posted on her Facebook page, Livni defended her decision to speak at the UNESCO event.
“At first I thought I would not come because they have taken terrible decisions, but then I thought, if I am getting a hearing here at UNESCO, I am going to say what I have to, not only on the issue of women, but also what I think about the decisions that are on their table about Hebron next week,” Livni said.
“They are going to hear what one woman from Israel thinks of these decisions. We can make a difference here.”
In May’s resolution, the UN agency wrote that Hebron (and Bethlehem) was an “integral part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” and that it “deplores the ongoing Israeli excavations, works, construction of private roads for settlers and of a Wall inside the Old City of Al-Khalil/Hebron which are illegal under international law and harmfully affect the authenticity and integrity of the site.”
The UN cultural agency’s World Heritage Committee is expected to vote on the matter on July 2, during its 41st session in Krakow, Poland. Given the Arab nations’ automatic majority in international forums, the Palestinian proposal is likely to be accepted.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs would become the third cultural site on UNESCO’s “List of World Heritage in Danger” that is registered as located in the “State of Palestine.” The other two are the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem and the “cultural landscape of Southern Jerusalem,” around Battir.
Following the May vote, Israel announced it would cut another $1 million from its payments to the UN, bringing the total cuts since December 2016 to $9 million.
In December, after the Security Council passed Resolution 2334, slamming Israeli settlement activity and calling settlements illegal, Netanyahu ordered $6 million cut from Israel’s payment to the UN. And in March, after the Human Rights Council passed five anti-Israel resolutions, Netanyahu vowed to cut an additional $2 million.
Last week, Israel denied a fact-finding mission entry to Hebron ahead of the UNESCO vote.
A group of independent scholars from the International Council on Monuments and Sites had been trying to gain access to the disputed holy site since the Palestinian Authority announced in April its plan to have it added to UNESCO’s list of endangered world heritage sites.
However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to grant them the required permits.
“On a strategic and principled level, the State of Israel will not take part in and will not legitimize any Palestinian political move under the guise of culture and heritage,” said Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen.
Raphael Aharen contributed to this report.