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Despite defeat, Netanyahu hails progress for Israel at UNESCO

Prime minister’s statement notes that fewer countries supported resolution ignoring Jewish ties to Jerusalem than in previous years, more abstained

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at PM Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem, October 09, 2016. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at PM Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem, October 09, 2016. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Wednesday said a second United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) vote ignoring Jewish ties to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was actually a diplomatic achievement for the Jewish state.

Convening its annual meeting in Paris, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee had earlier on Wednesday adopted Draft Resolution 40COM 7A.13, entitled “Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls,” by a large majority in a secret ballot, with 10 countries voting in favor, two opposing the text and eight abstaining. Eight “yes” votes were needed for the resolution to pass.

Jamaica was absent and did not participate in the vote.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said that “fewer nations were in favor of the resolution this year.”

“More nations moved this year from support to abstentions,” the statement said, referring to similar resolutions previously passed by the committee. It attributed the progress to “intense efforts by the prime minister and the Foreign Ministry.”

The resolution, which accuses Israel of various violations, echoed last week’s decision in referring 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 two Biblical temples, the mount is the holiest place in Judaism. But unlike last week’s resolution, the draft did not mention the importance of Jerusalem’s Old City for “the three monotheistic religions.”

“Israel thanks Croatia and Tanzania who asked for the vote and for all the countries that voted for Israel and didn’t support the resolution,” the statement said.

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee voting on a resolution ignoring Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem's Old City in Paris, October 26, 2016 (screen shot UNESCO website)
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee voting on a resolution ignoring Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem’s Old City in Paris, October 26, 2016 (screen shot UNESCO website)

At the opening of Wednesday’s session, the chairperson of the World Heritage Committee, Turkish diplomat Lale Ülker, proposed that the resolution be adopted “by consensus,” which would have given the appearance of a unanimous decision. A majority of member states supported her proposal, but Tanzania and Croatia asked for a secret ballot. The committee’s legal adviser eventually ruled that a secret ballot would be held on the resolution, paving the way for the two “no” votes and the eight abstentions.

This year’s member countries of the committee made things particularly difficult for Israeli diplomats battling the resolution. Germany, Colombia 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. Those nine and Vietnam were all assumed to have voted for the resolution. Poland, Finland, Croatia, Portugal, the four European countries, had indicated they would abstain.

“This is yet another absurd resolution against the State of Israel, the Jewish people and historical truth,” Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen said after the vote.

The resolution belongs on the garbage bin of history, the Israeli envoy added, and then lifted a black dustbin with the word “History” on it and placed a copy of the text into it.

The decision came a week after a similar resolution was approved by the body and elicited angry responses from Israel, several world leaders and even the body’s own director-general.

Also Wednesday, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein sent a letter to Pope Francis asking the pontiff to counter the UNESCO resolution, calling it “deeply offensive to both Christianity and Judaism.”

“The outrageous repudiation of the millennia-old bond between Judaism and its holiest shrines in Jerusalem is a blatant attempt to rewrite history.”

“The annals of both our religions cannot be erased by raised hands and counted votes,” he wrote and called for the international community to adopt another resolution that “reaffirms Jerusalem as a holy city for all monotheistic religions.”

“In the name of the Land of the People and the Bible, we would urge the Holy See to use its best offices to prevent the recurrence of developments of this sort.”

The Palestine Liberation Organization, the official representative of the Palestinian people at the UN, welcomed Wednesday the recent decisions and rejected the claims that it seeks to deny Jerusalem’s Jewish identity.

Secretary-General of the PLO Saeb Erekat said in a statement that “contrary to what the Israeli government claims, the resolution that was voted by UNESCO aims at reaffirming the importance of Jerusalem for the three monotheistic religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It calls for respecting the status quo of its religious sites, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound that continues to be threatened by the systematic incitement and provocative actions of the Israeli government and extremist Jewish groups.”

The 21 nations with voting rights on the World Heritage Committee were: Finland, Poland, Portugal, Croatia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Peru, Cuba, Jamaica, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Angola and Tanzania.

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