As another UNESCO vote on a resolution that omits Jewish ties to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem nears, the Palestinian delegation to the organization has threatened the international community, allegedly saying it will introduce text even harsher toward Israel if the resolution does not get full support from the world body.
On Wednesday, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage Committee, currently convening in Paris, is set to vote on the text, which deals with alleged Israeli violations in Jerusalem’s Old City and is similar to a controversial resolution passed by the body’s executive board earlier this month.
In a letter sent to the 21 member countries of the World Heritage Committee on Monday, the Palestinian and Jordanian delegations to UNESCO argue that they had made great efforts “to keep on the Jerusalem Decision consensual language” and that it had been endorsed by all members of the committee.
In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Times of Israel, the Palestinian and Arab delegations say they learned that “a few member states are still hesitant whether they can commit to our agreement… or not.”
This hesitance is seen “as a retreat from the consensual language,” the diplomats wrote. They expect their draft to be adopted by consensus and without a vote, they added.
“Otherwise,” the letter continues, “the delegation of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the delegation of Palestine would and according to the rules of procedure be obliged to consider other options.”
The letter does not spell out what these would be, but Israeli officials said the Palestinians, worried about recent diplomatic setbacks at UNESCO, are threatening to further harm the organization’s reputation by pushing through blatantly biased resolutions.
In certain respects, the text for this week’s vote is somewhat softer in its attacks on Israel than a resolution passed last week that drew allegations of anti-Semitism and was seen in some quarters as giving the panel a black eye.
For instance, unlike last week’s version, it does not call Israel an “occupying power” in Jerusalem’s Old City. It also does not place quotation marks around the Jewish term “Western Wall.”
However, the text adopted on October 13 included one passage with a mention of the importance of Jerusalem’s Old City for “the three monotheistic religions,” while the heritage committee’s resolution includes no references at all to Jewish or Christian ties to the area’s holy sites.
Jerusalem is currently engaged in a worldwide effort to prevent a unanimous decision to adopt the draft but rather force a vote in which some states are expected to vote against or abstain, Israel’s envoy to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, said Tuesday.
“The Palestinians’ ultimatums and threats only demonstrate their [poor] situation and reveal their true character as bullies and liars,” he said. “The Arabs’ letter and ultimatum are an excellent sign telling us that we’re on the right path.”
The earlier resolution, which was approved October 13 at the UNESCO committee stage with 24 “yes” votes, six “no” votes and 26 abstentions, and then formally confirmed by UNESCO’s executive on October 18, sparked vociferous condemnation in Israel, as well as from UNESCO’s own director, Irina Bokova, and several foreign leaders.
A chorus of Israeli politicians, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but including left-wing lawmakers, slammed the decision as absurd and UNESCO as detached from reality.
Mexico and Brazil, which voted in favor of the resolution, later expressed regret and vowed to abstain in future votes on the matter. Italy, which abstained, said it would henceforth vote against similar resolutions.
“The Palestinians and the Arabs understand that after Mexico and Italy they can expect a number of additional unpleasant surprises,” Shama-Hacohen said. Their ultimatum is intended to send the following message to the World Heritage Committee’s member states, he added: “Stop abandoning us or we’ll burn the house down with extreme anti-Israel resolutions that will cause tremendous damage to the organization.”
Italy, Brazil and Mexico are not members of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, and thus will not be able to vote on Wednesday.
The 21 nations that will vote on the text are: 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.