UNESCO shelves ‘anti-Israel’ resolutions for six months after quiet diplomacy

Director-general welcomes the ‘spirit of dialogue and responsibility’ after unanimous decision to delay votes on Jerusalem and Gaza

Israeli Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Hacohen Shama, right, argues with a Palestinian diplomat during the agency's General Conference in Paris, November 2017 (courtesy)
Israeli Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Hacohen Shama, right, argues with a Palestinian diplomat during the agency's General Conference in Paris, November 2017 (courtesy)

The United Nations Organization for Education, Science, and Culture agreed unanimously on Thursday to delay by at least six months voting on two resolutions, one on Gaza and another on Jerusalem, that an Israeli official had denounced as “the most extreme and problematic text” ever proposed.

Following negotiations on Tuesday by the Israeli delegation and the Arab nations that sponsored the resolution, the executive council of the body voted unanimously to delay a decision on the two resolutions until the next session to be held in October.

The decision was welcomed by Audrey Azoulay, the newly appointed director-general of UNESCO.

“I welcome the spirit of dialogue and responsibility that has allowed a consensual decision to be reached in the framework of the Executive board during its discussions concerning the Middle East,” she tweeted.

She added that the agreement between the nations heralded a new era for the international body.

“This spirit of consensus opens up a new positive dynamic within UNESCO. I thank all the delegations that have worked towards this, notably the representatives of the Palestinian, Israeli, Jordanian, American, and European Union delegations,” she wrote. “This outcome bears witness to the Parties’ strong commitment to work together, including on the most sensitive issues.”

The resolution was to have been voted on Wednesday, at the Executive Board’s 204th session in Paris, but was delayed to allow for Thursday’s vote postponing any decision on the matter.

Newly elected head of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay following her election on October 13, 2017 at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. (AFP/Thomas Samson)

Israel’s representative to the body welcomed the consensus.

“In the name of the State of Israel and myself, I would like to convey our big appreciation to all those who helped to reach the consensus today,” the ambassador, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, said.

“Taking into consideration the difficult situation on the ground in our region and along some of our borders, the consensus today is a living proof that with good will from all sides we can prevent political clashes in this organization and we can avoid dealing with issues that should be dealt elsewhere, if at all,” he said.

In addition to the US, he thanked the Palestinian Authority and Jordan for “their positive and constructive approach.”

Shama Hacohen also implied that if the constructive atmosphere continued, Israel may reconsider its decision to leave the body over its previous resolutions on the Jewish state.

“If we all had followed the spirit of good will, respect, and understanding toward each other’s sensitivities, it is highly likely that things might look different today,” he said.

The US also welcomed the decision.

“The US delegation warmly welcomes the progress demonstrated here today and congratulates the parties for taking the steps necessary for a constructive approach to a very difficult and sensitive file,” its mission posted on its website.

The delayed Jerusalem resolution, sponsored by Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Sudan, consists of only four paragraphs. Two recall previous resolutions, one calls for their implementation and future discussion, and one reaffirms “the importance of Jerusalem for the three monotheistic religions.”

French Jews hold Israeli flags as they take part at a demonstration against UNESCO, near the cultural agency’s Paris headquarters, July 17, 2017. (Serge Attal/Flash90)

In a letter last month to fellow UNESCO envoys, a copy of which was obtained by The Times of Israel, Shama Hacohen argued that the text’s brevity and lack of offensive language against Israel was misleading. Rather, he said, the resolution is “based on politicization and hateful propaganda against UNESCO’s core mandate and own sake, as well as against the Jewish People and the State of Israel.”

For one, the resolution is entitled “Occupied Palestine,” which the Israeli envoy argued is a “pure[ly] political title.”

Furthermore, the draft refers to the 1981 inscription of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls in UNESCO’s World Heritage List, and the subsequent decision to add the site to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage in Danger. Both requests were made by Jordan and “were, and are, political fictions,” Shama Hacohen wrote.

The draft resolution goes on to cite more than a dozen previous UNESCO Executive Board resolutions, including those that used only Arab terms for the Temple Mount or accused Israel of desecrating Muslim graves in the Old City.

Furthermore, it cites UN Security Council Resolution 2334 from December 2016, which stated that Israeli settlements constitute “a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace.”

It also recalls last year’s UN General Assembly Resolution ES-10/L.22, which condemned the US administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

UNESCO’s Executive Board consists of 58 member states, including more than a dozen Arab and Muslim states.

Last October, the US and Israel decided to withdraw from UNESCO, citing among other reasons the body’s anti-Israel bias.

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