Another UNESCO panel set to deny Jewish link to Temple Mount

Despite Israeli efforts, World Heritage Committee will likely accept a resolution using only the Muslim name for the site

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

An aerial view of Jerusalem. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)
An aerial view of Jerusalem. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

Just a week after the executive board of the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) ratified a controversial resolution that ignored Jewish and Christian ties to the Temple Mount, a similar resolution is expected to be passed by the body’s World Heritage Committee Wednesday.

Barring any last minute delay, the resolution, entitled “Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls,” will be presented before the committee’s 21 member states. As with last week’s contentious text, the latest draft is expected to pass with a comfortable majority.

The wording of the resolution has not yet been finalized, with frantic multi-party negotiations on the text continuing in UNESCO’s Paris headquarters through the night and into Wednesday morning. A draft of the resolution obtained by The Times of Israel on Sunday once again referred to the Temple Mount compound solely by its Muslim names, “Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” and defined it only as “a Muslim holy site of worship.”

As the site of the biblical temples, the mount is the holiest place in Judaism. Unlike last week’s resolution, the draft likely to be adopted Wednesday will not mention the importance of Jerusalem’s Old City for “the three monotheistic religions.”

Last week’s text referred to Israel as “the occupying power” at the holy sites. The new resolution does not, which Israel considers a minor victory. In addition, the new version doesn’t put quotation marks around the designation “Western Wall,” punctuation seen in Israel as bolstering the original resolution’s disdain of a Jewish connection to Judaism’s holiest site.

The Foreign Ministry worked frantically through the night in a bid to delay the resolution, but it seemed unlikely that it would succeed, and officials said they viewed the outcome of the vote as a foregone conclusion.

“It seems that the resolution will pass and that UNESCO will continue to dance to the Palestinians’ tune,” Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, said Wednesday morning. The vote itself does not have much practical significance, he told Army Radio, but it shows the Palestinians that they can use the body to blame Israel for anything they wish. He referred to the Palestinian efforts as “incitement.”

Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon in April 2016 (Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images/JTA)
Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon in April 2016 (Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images/JTA)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late Tuesday night that UNESCO’s second vote on the matter within a few days shows the organization remains a “theater of the absurd.” He said that while “extremist Muslim forces are destroying mosques and churches, Israel is the only country in the region that protects them and allows freedom of worship.”

According to Israel’s envoy to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, Netanyahu instructed him to work to convince countries likely to abstain to go further and cast a vote against the resolution, arguing that an abstention is akin to support. He described the resolution as “diplomatic jihad” against the Jewish people, Judaism and Christianity.

“Israel respects Muslim and other faiths and their presence in our holiest of places, and it is tragic that the other side doesn’t have a leadership that will do the same, but rather one that is engaged only in doing the exact opposite,” Shama-Hacohen said Tuesday during a meeting with UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova. “This is no longer an Israeli-Palestinian struggle, but an Arab struggle against the entire Jewish world. It is clear that Israel and the Jewish people will survive this, yet it remains unclear whether UNESCO will.”

Shama-Hacohen and the heads of two pro-Israel organizations, StandWithUs and the International Legal Forum, handed Bokova a petition signed by more than 77,000 Jews and Christians calling on UNESCO “to recognize the irrefutable deep historic, cultural and religious connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.”

This year’s member countries of the committee make things particularly difficult for Israel. Germany, Columbia and Japan, all sympathetic nations to Israel, are no longer involved, and in their place are Tunisia, Kuwait, Lebanon and Indonesia, bringing to nine the total number of Muslim countries, which are all expected to vote in favor of the resolution, along with Vietnam. Poland, Finland, Croatia, Portugal, the four European countries, said they would abstain if the resolution is put to a vote.

The adoption of the resolution would lead to an absurd situation whereby the archaeological digs on and around the site of the Temple Mount, which have unearthed copious evidence of a Jewish connection to the site, may now be designated as destruction of the Muslim site.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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