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PA hails UNESCO vote as legitimizing Palestinian sovereignty in Hebron

Ramallah and Hamas welcome measure calling Tomb of Patriarchs an endangered Palestinian heritage site as a defeat for Israel and US

The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)
The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

The Palestinians hailed a UNESCO decision Friday to declare the Old City of Hebron an endangered Palestinian world heritage site, a move that sparked outrage from Israel, which condemned the resolution as “delusional,” and from the US.

“This vote is a success for the diplomatic battle fought by Palestine on all fronts, in the face of Israeli and American pressure on member states,” the Palestinian Authority’s foreign ministry said.

“Despite a frantic Israeli campaign spreading lies and distorting the facts about the Palestinian rights, the world has recognized our right to register Hebron and the Ibrahimi Mosque under Palestinian sovereignty,” the statement added.

The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, also hailed the decision, calling it an “affirmation of our full rights in Hebron and all Palestinian land.”

UNESCO’s heritage committee voted 12 to three — with six abstentions — to give Palestinian heritage status to the Old City in the center of Hebron, home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, revered as the biblical burial place of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs.

Both the US and Israel protested vigorously against the motion.

Israel said the Hebron resolution — which refers to the city as “Islamic” — denies thousands of years of Jewish connection there, and the outrage at the decision was evident in Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed UNESCO for “yet another delusional decision,” and vowed to protect the site.

“This time they ruled the Tomb of the Patriarchs is a Palestinian site, meaning not a Jewish site, and it is in danger,” he tweeted.

The Foreign Ministry labelled the vote a “moral blot” on the world body, while President Reuven Rivlin said that UNESCO seemed “intent on spreading anti-Jewish lies.”

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley testifies during a US House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, June 28, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB)
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley testifies during a US House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, June 28, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

Netanyahu announced that Israel would further reduce its membership dues by $1 million in protest of the decision, and would instead spend the funds on establishing a museum of Jewish heritage in the Hebron area.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley also harshly condemned the resolution, calling it “tragic” and an “affront to history,” and vowed that Washington would review its ties with UNESCO as a result of the decision.

In a statement, Haley said the resolution “undermines the trust that is needed for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to be successful,” and “further discredits an already highly questionable UN agency.”

“The United States is currently evaluating the appropriate level of its continued engagement at UNESCO,” she warned.

Earlier this week, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee passed a resolution denying Israeli claims to the Old City of Jerusalem. Although the text was much softer than similar resolutions passed in previous years, Israel condemned it strongly.

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