Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a strongly worded letter to French President Francoise Hollande to condemn Paris’s support for a recent controversial UNESCO resolution, days before the French leadership apologized for the vote, Channel 2 news reported Saturday.
The UNESCO document spoke of “Occupied Palestine” and made no mention of historic Jewish ties to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It condemned “Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against the freedom of worship and Muslims’ access to their Holy Site Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al Sharif.”
France was among the 33 countries that backed the resolution in the 58-member body.
In his letter to Hollande, Netanyahu said he was “astounded” by France’s support for what he called “a historic distortion of truth” and “an extremely biased and offensive” resolution.
“The organization trusted with the safekeeping of world history has degraded itself to rewriting a basic and indisputable part of human history,” Netanyahu wrote.
“While we have no illusions as to the the UN’s commitment to truth or decency, we were honestly astounded to see our French friends raise their hands in favor of this shameful resolution,” he stated.
He added: “International support for the Palestinian effort to deny Jewish history and to perpetuate the myth of Jewish aggression in the Temple Mount is not just immoral, it is dangerous.”
Several days after Paris received the letter, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that the UNESCO resolution was “clumsy” and “unfortunate” and should have been avoided.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault was expected to arrive in Jerusalem on Saturday in a bid to persuade Netanyahu to accept France’s efforts to engineer a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, based on a two-state solution.
The Haaretz daily said Netanyahu is set to strongly criticize the French plan during his talks with Ayrault in Jerusalem, while the foreign minister “will try to persuade him not to reject it out of hand.”
According to Haaretz, Ayrault will arrive in Israel on Saturday night, meet with Netanyahu on Sunday morning, then head to Ramallah for talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The foreign minister will depart on Sunday evening.
The paper quoted French diplomats as saying that although the prime minister has publicly opposed the French plan, Ayrault “wants to hear Netanyahu’s views in person.”
The meeting comes a week before Valls is also due to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories, in what his office said was an attempt to relaunch the peace process following the worst flare-up of violence in the Gaza Strip for two years.
Valls’ May 21-24 visit will take place ahead of a May 30 summit that France is organizing for ministers from 20 countries to discuss reviving the peace negotiations. Neither Israeli nor Palestinian officials have been invited. Ayrault has previously said the aim of the meeting is to prepare an international summit in the second half of 2016, which would include Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
The May 30 meeting has been welcomed by the Palestinians, who suspended a planned UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements to focus on the French efforts. Israel, however, has consistently argued that peace can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the two sides, rather than in international forums.
According to Ayrault, a former French prime minister, discussions at the meeting would be based on the 2002 Saudi peace initiative — approved by the Arab League but not Israel — which called on the Jewish state to withdraw from Palestinian territory captured in the 1967 Six Day War, including East Jerusalem, in exchange for a normalization of ties with Arab countries. It also outlined the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and envisaged a “just solution” of the refugee issue.
Valls will meet with Netanyahu a day after his arrival in Israel. He also plans to hold talks with President Reuven Rivlin, former president Shimon Peres and opposition leader Isaac Herzog.
He is then scheduled to travel to Ramallah, where he will meet with PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.
AFP contributed to this report.