New UNESCO Resolution On Jerusalem: Inflammatory?


On October 26th, UNESCO approved the Arab-sponsored resolution on the status of conservation of the al-Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City. Since the document refers to the holy site only by its Arab name, Israel and its allies condemn the decision as being one-sided and “inflammatory.”

Indeed, the resulting criticism lead to further accusations and seems to instigate another conflict. The resolution was passed by the World Heritage Committee’s 21 member countries. Ten of them voted for, eight abstained, two were against and one was absent. Moreover, Israel, the U.S. and Palestine are not current members of the World Heritage Committee.

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said that they “will not co-operate with an organization denying the Jewish People’s connection to Jerusalem.” In fact, such a resolution lead Israel to suspend its ties with UNESCO. U.S. Ambassador Crystal Nix Hines also emphasized that such one-sided decisions are damaging the credibility of the organization.

“What Israel wants, in fact, is to put politics in religion. This is the most dangerous thing that is happening now in UNESCO,” said Elias Sanbar, the Palestinian Ambassador.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister, said that organization had become a “theatre of the absurd.” “To say that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China or that Egypt has no connection to the pyramids. By this absurd decision, UNESCO has lost what little legitimacy it had left.”

The holy site itself is located in East Jerusalem, the area captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast War. While Israel made it part of its capital, their annexation is not internationally recognized. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as their capital and accuse Israel of their archaeological digs, tourism projects and restrictions on Muslim worshipers. Israel, on the other hand, says that they protect holy sites to all religions and regard such criticism as politically motivated.

Mounir Anastas, Palestine’s Deputy Ambassador to UNESCO, said he hoped this resolution would put pressure on Israel and their authorities to “stop all their violations” of holy sites in and around the Old City.

UNESCO actions are perceived by Israel as an additional evidence of established anti-Israel bias within the UN, where Israel and their allies are outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters.

The main problem with referencing remains and is claimed to be a resolution “against historical truth” as was emphasized by Israel’s Ambassador Carmel Shama-Hacohen.

Photograph: Eliana Aponte/Reuters