A delegation from UNESCO, the United Nation’s cultural organization, arrived
Sunday to inspect preservation work in Jerusalem’s Old City, as part of a deal
whereby Israel would let the delegation tour the Old City, and the Palestinians
would postpone five anti-Israel resolutions pending before the body.
Foreign Ministry official characterized the visit as “professional” and not
political, and said the delegation would neither go to the Temple Mount nor deal
with the issue of the Mughrabi Bridge.
Nevertheless, the Jordanian royal
palace issued a statement in April, after the deal enabling the delegation to
arrive was agreed upon, saying “Jordan and Palestine, supported by Arab states,
succeeded in pressuring Israel, for the first time since 2004, to accept and
facilitate a UNESCO experts’ mission to investigate and assess the status of
heritage and conservation of the Old City of Jerusalem and its
UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization, accepted “Palestine” as a member in 2011, a move that angered
Jerusalem and Washington and led the US to cut off its annual contribution to
UNESCO added the Old City to its list of World Heritage
Sites in 1981, and a year later placed it on its list of “endangered” World
Heritage Sites. The last monitoring mission took place in 2004, and UNESCO has
been requesting a new one for the last three years.
According to a UNESCO
statement, the mission’s goals are to “examine the state of conservation of the
Old City of Jerusalem and its walls, a World Heritage site.” The mission is made
up of experts from UNESCO’s World Heritage Center, the International Council on
Monuments and Sites, and the International Center for the Study of the
Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property. It is to present its report
and recommendations before the beginning of the World Heritage Committee’s
annual meeting on June 1.
The Foreign Ministry is hosting the delegation,
a ministry official said, since Israel is “the responsible party for maintaining
and preserving” the site.
The agreement between Israel and the
Palestinians in April to green-light the visit was viewed as a diplomatic
achievement, brokered by the US and Russia. The agreement by the Palestinians to
shelve their resolution came amid efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to
create a better climate conducive to restarting talks, and part of creating that
climate included getting the Palestinians to postpone anti-Israel resolutions
in international forums.
The five resolutions that the Palestinians
temporarily shelved in UNESCO dealt with the Temple Mount, the Mughrabi Bridge
leading to the Temple Mount from the Western Wall Plaza, Bethlehem, Hebron and
Under the deal, Israel agreed to attend a UNESCO meeting to be held
in June in Paris to discuss the Mughrabi Bridge.
The bridge has been the
subject of contention since the original earthen ramp there collapsed during a
snowstorm in 2004. Repair work on a temporary bridge there in 2007 touched off
widespread Muslim rioting in Jordan and Jerusalem, and efforts to build a
permanent replacement for the temporary bridge are considered extremely