An eleventh-hour intervention by Russia saved Israel from UNESCO condemnation at Wedensday’s meeting of the General Executive of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in Paris.
UNESCO members were due to vote on five resolutions proposed by Jordan, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Syria which, if passed, would have led to strong criticism of the Jewish State.
Jordan contends that Israel is engaging in a series of archaeological digs designed at detrimentally altering the character of the Old City of Jerusalem, without their prior approval. They also protest against Jewish worshippers being allowed access to pray on the Temple Mount. Jerusalem’s Old City and its surrounding are classified as one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites and therefore cannot be altered.
The PA meanwhile applied to UNESCO to criticise Israel for blocking educational tools in Gaza and for settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Its pursuit of these resolutions follows its earlier successful appeal for world heritage status for the Church of Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, which, Israel argued was a politically-motivated appeal designed at aiding its intended appeal for unilateral statehood at the UN.
However, Russia’s envoy to the UN successfully championed an alternative plan ensuring resolutions would be delayed for a six month period in which an independent UN fact-finding mission would be despatched to Jerusalem. The vote was passed by 28 votes to 23, with France the only EU member state to oppose Russia’s motion.
After France similarly publicly advocated the granting of heritage status to the Church of Nativity in July, saying such support was “in line with his country’s policy since support for Palestine’s entry into UNESCO last October”, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Director for International Relations Shimon Samuels wrote a letter to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius protesting against French advocacy of the application, urging the delegation to “withdraw your support and, indeed, to vote against this irresponsible resolution”.