Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to contact many of the leaders of 21 member nations of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee Executive Board in hopes of swaying them not to support next week’s vote on a resolution that ignores Jewish ties to the Temple Mount.
Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Carmel Shama-Hacohen said that Israel faced a stiff battle before that committee because it’s composed of countries with a history of voting against Israel.
“There is a will to stop this chaos [of such resolutions] which harms everyone,” Shama-Hacohen said. But he acknowledged that the World Heritage Committee which meets in Paris from October 24 to 26 “will be a tough playing field.”
The vote is part of the bureaucratic process by which the World Heritage Committee reaffirmed the placement of Jerusalem and its Old City Walls on its list of endangered sites called “World Heritage in Danger.”
It had been set to do this in Istanbul in July, but Turkey’s failed coup forced the committee to cut its session short and to reconvene in October to finish its agenda.
At that time the text in question, referred to the Temple Mount solely by its Muslim name of Al-Haram Al-Sharif. The Western Wall plaza was placed twice in quotations marks but otherwise was spoken of as the Buraq plaza.
Since 2015, the Palestinians, have pushed to change the linguistic references to the Temple Mount to largely ignore the Judeo-Christian ties to the site and turning every resolution on Jerusalem in UNESCO into a cultural and historic battle between Judaism and Islam.
On Tuesday UNESCO’s 58-member Executive Board wrapped up its 200th session in Paris by ratifying such a text, which had been given preliminary approval the prior week in a 24-6 vote. Twenty-six countries abstained and two were absent.
Mexico, which was one of the 24 countries in favor of the resolution has since announced that it has withdrawn its support for the text and would like to be considered as one of the abstaining countries.
Brazil also spoke at the final board session and indicated that it was unlikely to support such resolutions in the future.
After the ratification Shama-Hacohen said, “We have moved forward a step-and-a-half toward dismantling the automatic majority that the Palestinians and the Arab states have against Israel.”
“Mexico has taken a full step toward abandoning support of the Palestinians, after years of voting without hesitation against Israel."
“The best surprise of the morning,” he said, “is Brazil’s notification that while it did not change its vote this time, it will find it difficult not to do [in the future], if there is a resolution with another text that disregards the Jewish people’s connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall,” Shama-Hacohen said.
The Palestinian Authority welcomed the result of Tuesday’s Executive Board ratification and dismissed Israel’s arguments that the language of the text was historically problematic.
"What we are talking about is the ownership and the sovereignty on the site which is East Jerusalem,” the PA’s deputy ambassador to UNESCO Mounir Anastas said.
“We are recalling Israel that they are the occupying power there and as an occupying power they have obligations to respect and they have more than obligations even; they are tied by the international law that requests them first, not to conduct any work and second not to change the names in this site.
“Israel is trying to change, to focus the attention on a secondary problem which is the appellation and things like that, forgetting the essence of the problem, which is the occupation by Israel," Anastas said.
UNESCO has accepted "Palestine" as a member state since 2011, although the United Nations has not done so.
Next week, the World Heritage Committee will likely accept a similar text. The nations that sit on that committee are: Angola, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Croatia, Cuba, Finland, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korean, Tunisia, Turkey, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
Reuters contributed to this report.