Palestinians rebuke UNESCO chief for opposing Jerusalem resolution
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Palestinians rebuke UNESCO chief for opposing Jerusalem resolution

PA, Hamas accuse Irina Bokova of capitulating to Israeli pressure after she expresses disapproval of motion ignoring Jewish links to holy sites

The Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
The Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Palestinian leaders over the weekend leveled harsh criticism at UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova for distancing herself from the UN cultural body’s resolution that rejects Jewish ties to Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki charged that Bokova had overstepped her authority by speaking out against the resolution adopted by the organization on Thursday and accused her of capitulating to Israeli pressure.

Maliki said Bokova’s statements “undermine” the work and authority of UNESCO’s member states “and are thus completely unacceptable.”

He went on to accuse Bokova of choosing to appease Israel’s “bullying campaign” against the resolution. He called on Bokova to focus her efforts on “addressing the ongoing colonial policies in Palestine, which systematically assault and target our rich heritage, cultural and religious sites, undermining coexistence and tolerance.”

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki. (AFP/Miguel Medina)
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki. (AFP/Miguel Medina)

A spokesman for the Hamas terror group similarly denounced Bokova’s opposition to the resolution, accusing the director-general of “giving in to Israeli pressure,” according to Walla News.

Jordan — who co-sponsored the resolution along with UNESCO’s Palestinian delegation — said it intended to employ any diplomatic and legal means to establish the historical status of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.

Government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said Saturday: “Jordan is proud to lead the world, Muslims and all Arabs in this matter, and urges to continue these measures,” he said according to Israel’s Ynet news website.

Bokova on Friday signaled her opposition to the UNESCO resolution that referred to the Temple Mount and Western Wall — Judaism’s holiest sites — only by their Muslim names, condemned Israel as “the occupying power” and called to “safeguard the Palestinian cultural heritage and the distinctive character of East Jerusalem.”

Though she did not explicitly mention the resolution, Bokova made her disapproval of the motion clear. “The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city,” she said in a statement.

“To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list,” Bokova said. “When these divisions carry over into UNESCO, an organization dedicated to dialogue and peace, they prevent us from carrying out our mission.”

Jewish worshipers gather at the Western Wall, for the annual priestly blessing on April 6, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jewish worshipers gather at the Western Wall, for the annual priestly blessing on April 6, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The resolution was approved Thursday at UNESCO’s committee stage. It must still be validated by the Executive Board of UNESCO when it meets early next week, but the wording is unlikely to change.

The Israeli leadership reacted furiously to the resolution Thursday, with some accusing UNESCO of anti-Semitism. Lawmakers from both the right and left of the political spectrum said the decision was ill-befitting of the cultural body.

Irina Bokova speaks with reporters in New York on April 12, 2016. (Kena Betancur/AFP)
Irina Bokova speaks with reporters in New York on April 12, 2016. (Kena Betancur/AFP)

Israel informed Bokova on Friday that it was suspending its cooperation with UNESCO over the vote, with Education Minister Naftali Bennett calling the motion a denial of history that “gives a boost to terrorism.”

In response to a letter from MK Tzipi Livni, Bokova on Saturday said that she herself recognizes the sanctity of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall to the Jewish people, and highlighted various UNESCO activities aimed at upholding Judaism’s connection to the land of Israel.

Bennett called Bokova’s criticism of the resolution “insufficient,” and urged her to back up her words with action.

The chairman of UNESCO’s Executive Board, Michael Worbs, said Friday that he hoped to delay Tuesday’s board meeting in order to reach a consensus on the resolution before a formal vote. He also apologized for the resolution in an interview aired Friday night on Israeli television.

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