Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, on Wednesday evening for consultations to protest against the adoption of an anti-Israel resolution at the organization’s World Heritage Committee a few hours earlier.
“The theater of the absurd continues,” Netanyahu said on Wednesday evening at a speech at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, announcing the move. “We will decide what to do and what further steps to take against this organization.”
Shama-Hacohen himself demonstratively responded to the adoption of resolution at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris by throwing the resolution into a garbage bin bearing a sign reading “History.”
The resolution, which keeps the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites in danger, passed in a secret ballot by a vote of 10 to 2, with eight abstentions, and Jamaica not present.
The Palestinians and Jordanians, who pushed forward the resolution, had wanted it to be adopted by consensus, but Tanzania and Croatia demanded a secret ballot.
According to diplomatic sources, Tanzania and the Philippines voted against the resolution. Seven of the 10 countries which are believed to have voted for the motion are Muslim countries. Only eight votes were needed for the measure to pass.
Diplomatic sources said that the countries that abstained were Poland, Portugal, Croatia, Finland, South Korea, Burkina Faso, Peru and Zimbabwe.
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Those that voted in favor, according to the sources, were Lebanon, Cuba, Kuwait, Tunisia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Vietnam and Angola.
Netanyahu said the results of the vote disappointed the Palestinians and some of the Arab states that wanted to see the motion passed by consensus, since UNESCO director- general Irina Bokova had said that if a consensus were not reached, the decision would not be implemented.
“I want to thank the leaders of Tanzania and Croatia who demanded a vote,” Netanyahu said. “I spoke to them, and I very much appreciate their willingness to take a stand there. Because it came to a vote, it will not be implemented, since there was no consensus.”
Netanyahu said it was significant that 11 of the 21 countries on the panel did not vote for the motion, a much better result than the previous year, even though the composition of the forum this year is even more problematic from Israel’s perspective than it was in 2015. For instance, he pointed out that Germany, India and Colombia were replaced on the body this year by Lebanon, Zimbabwe and Angola.
“With a worse composition we got a better result,” he said. “This supports what I have said in the UN, that Israel’s [strong] bilateral relations will eventually be reflected in international forums, even though it will take time.”
Netanyahu said Wednesday’s vote showed that the automatic majority against Israel was being broken.
Nevertheless, he said, it was absurd that this type of resolution – one that said Israel was not respecting the rights of other religions or respecting the holy places – even made it to UNESCO.
“We are the ones who do not preserve the holy places? Can you think of anything more absurd than that?” he asked.
“We are the only ones [in the region] who diligently and carefully preserve them. We all know what is happening in the Middle East with radical Islam that blows up mosques, churches and historical sites; slaughters Yazidis; slaughters Muslims who don’t agree with them; slaughters Christians; slaughters anything that they can get their hands on."
“Israel is not the one that deserves condemnation,” he said, “Israel deserves all forms of praise on this matter, as a beacon of progress, tolerance and human rights. UNESCO deserves condemnation not only for this distortion, but for past ones.”
Netanyahu was referring to a similar resolution that passed the UNESCO executive board two weeks ago. Showing a picture of an ancient papyrus relic displayed by the Israel Antiquities Authority on Wednesday dating back to the 7th century BCE that mentions Jerusalem in Hebrew, Netanyahu said that it was “a letter to UNESCO.”
“This explains our connection in Hebrew to Jerusalem, and the centrality of Jerusalem,” he said.
After the vote, Shama-Hacohen minced no words in his statement to the committee as he explained that the resolution is against Israel, the Jewish people and the “historical truth.”
It stands, he said, “in complete and utter contradiction to all values, which this disintegrating organization is supposed to stand for.”
“The fate of this resolution,” he said, “shall be no different than that of UN resolution 3379 adopted in 1975, which equated Zionism with racism. That absurd resolution was canceled 16 years later, but the moral stain still remains on all those who adopted it.”
“The battle for Jerusalem,” he said had not ended with this vote.
“Israel is sovereign in Jerusalem and shall continue to exercise its sovereignty there, while Palestinians and other Arab nations continue to toy with imaginary and absurd resolution, which put to shame those who placed them on the agenda as well as those who raised their hands in favor,” he said.
In addressing the World Heritage Committee in Paris, the Jordanian representative thanked the 10 members who supported the motion.
The resolution, he said, is based on international law, which considers that Israel illegally occupies east Jerusalem.
It seeks to keep “the city as it was before the Israeli occupation in 1967,” the Jordanian representative said. Jordan has a role to play in the proceedings, because the country’s king is the custodian of all the holy places in Jerusalem, he said.
The Palestinian representative told the committee that the storm Israel has created over these resolutions “perplexes him,” including its opposition to a consensus vote.
“Israel is trying to politicize religion. This is not about religion, it is about breaches of rights given the scope of the mandate,” he said as he added that he hopes the debate on such texts is over.
As events move forward, “I think it will be clear to all which is the party that is trying to politicize in dangerous ways the issue of religion and which is the party that is operating within the confines of UNESCO’s mandate.”
Palestinian Liberation Organization Secretary-General Saeb Erekat issued a statement to the media charging that Israel is trying to damage holy sites in Jerusalem, while the Palestinians and the Jordanians seek to protect them.
“The State of Palestine, in full cooperation with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, through diplomatic channels, has been doing everything possible in order to preserve the status quo of the historical Holy Sites,” Erekat said.
“Israel’s illegal attempts to change the identity of occupied east Jerusalem, including its Christian and Muslim traditions, have been ongoing since its occupation of the city in 1967,” Erekat said.
“Through an orchestrated campaign, Israel has been using archeological claims and distortion of facts as a way to legitimize the annexation of occupied east Jerusalem,” he added.
The United States, which worked behind the scenes to defeat the resolution said that such texts were “politicized,” and damaged the credibility of UNESCO, hindering its ability to preserve world culture.
“These resolutions are continuously inflammatory and one sided to the point of ignoring the historic connections of all three religions, the holy sites of Jerusalem are important to the peoples of all three monotheistic faiths — Judaism, Islam and Christianity” and this must be fully represented in the resolutions presented at UNESCO,” the US representative said.
The World Heritage Committee votes annually to place Jerusalem on the World Heritage in Danger list, but the issue of referring the site in purely Muslim terms began only last year, when the Palestinians began their drive at UNESCO to reclassify Jerusalem and its Old City.
Top UN officials have also spoken against these resolutions, including outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNESCO executive board chairman Michael Worbs and UNESCO director-general Bokova.
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