Palestinians applaud UNESCO vote denying Israeli claims to Jerusalem
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Palestinians applaud UNESCO vote denying Israeli claims to Jerusalem

Ramallah thanks UN body for reaffirming 'need to confront the dangers posed by the illegal practices of Israel'

A general view taken on January 13, 2017 shows the Dome of the Rock at the Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. (Thomas Coex/AFP)
A general view taken on January 13, 2017 shows the Dome of the Rock at the Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. (Thomas Coex/AFP)

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday welcomed a resolution passed by the UN’s cultural body denying Israeli claims to any part of Jerusalem, while alleging that Israel poses a threat to the city’s heritage sites.

Submitted to UNESCO’s Executive Board by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, the resolution on “Occupied Palestine” indicated that Israel has no legal or historical rights anywhere in Jerusalem. It passed with 22 votes in favor, 23 abstentions, 10 opposed, and representatives of three countries absent.

Throughout the resolution text Israel is referred to as the “occupying power” in Jerusalem, indicating that it has no legal or historical ties to any part of the city.

In a statement, the Palestinian ministry thanked UNESCO for “reaffirming the centrality of Jerusalem to world heritage as well as the need to confront the dangers posed by the illegal practices of Israel, the occupying power.”

Countries that supported the vote have “honored their commitments in relation to the resolution and the principles enshrined therein, including affording international heritage sites due protection without prejudice and political considerations,” it said.

Noting Israeli diplomatic efforts to thwart the resolution, the statement said that Palestinians were “mindful of the cynical and misleading efforts by the occupying power to deflect attention from the real issues at hand.”

“We are happy that this campaign of intimidation, political bullying, and misinformation failed to achieve its desired results and was unable to derail the discussions and decision-making of states from the real and important issues addressed in the resolution.”

Israeli officials condemned the outcome of the vote, but, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, were quick to cheer what was perceived as a diplomatic improvement for Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a reception for foreign diplomats in Israel marking Israel's 69th Independence Day, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, May 2, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a reception for foreign diplomats in Israel marking Israel’s 69th Independence Day, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, May 2, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“In the past two days I had talks with many of the leaders of your countries, heads of state, foreign ministers… regarding the absurd vote that is being held now in the UN,” Netanyahu said at reception for foreign diplomats to mark Israel’s annual Independence Day, celebrated Tuesday.

“The result is that the number of countries supporting this absurd vote in UNESCO is getting smaller. A year ago, 32 [countries supporting similar resolutions], half a year ago it went down to 26, and now it has gone down to 22.”

The 10 countries that voted against the resolution were the US, the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Greece, Paraguay, Ukraine, Togo, and Germany.

In its wording the UNESCO resolution was slightly less harsh on Jerusalem than previous resolutions, in that it did affirm the importance of the city to the “three monotheistic religions.”

Unlike previous resolutions, it did not refer to the Temple Mount only as Haram al-Sharif, or to the Western Wall Plaza only as al-Burak plaza, the respective sites’ Muslim names. In fact, these sites are not mentioned at all.

Furthermore, Resolution 201 EX/PX/DR.30.1 affirms “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions.” It also notes that the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem, both of which are in the West Bank, “are of religious significance for Judaism, Christianity and Islam” — though it calls them “Palestinian sites.”

Earlier this week, Israel officials acknowledged that the resolution that passed Tuesday was somewhat easier to stomach than previous versions, but emphatically urged Western countries to vote against it.

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