The UNESCO director-general and the US bashed as incitement to violence the draft text of a resolution that seeks to reclassify the Western Wall as a holy Muslim site.
The US warned that the resolution threatened to alter the status quo of holy sites, such as the Temple Mount, where the Western Wall – the most sacred public prayer site in Judaism – is located.
“The United States strongly opposes this resolution and any such use of international fora such as UNESCO to inflame tension in the region and alter the status quo at the holy sites,” Edgar Vasquez, a State Department spokesman, told The Jerusalem Post. “The United States is in close, urgent consultation with UNESCO member states, UNESCO leadership and Israel to discuss this matter.
“One-sided anti-Israel resolutions have been a recurring challenge at UNESCO since 2009,” Vasquez continued, “and in all such circumstances, the United States has blocked consensus on such resolutions by calling for a vote and voting against the texts.”
UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova and the US issued their statements in advance of Wednesday’s highly publicized vote by UNESCO’s Executive Board in Paris on a draft resolution, which “affirms that the Buraq Plaza [the Western Wall] is an integral part of al-Aksa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif.”
While the US often stands with Israel against pro-Palestinian resolutions in UN bodies, it is unusual for a UN official to bash such initiatives.
A statement put out by the director-general’s office said Bokova “appeals to the UNESCO Executive Board to take decisions that do not further inflame tensions on the ground and that encourage respect for the sanctity of the holy sites.”
Her office added that the resolution “could be seen to alter the status of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls, inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list” and “could further incite tensions.”
The “protection of culture heritage should be taken hostage, as this undermines UNESCO’s mandate and efforts,” Bokova said.
Her office added that she consulted with nations on the 58-member board to encourage them to pursue constructive dialogue that promotes tolerance and mutual respect such as outlined in the mandate of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Jerusalem is a city that is holy for Jews, Christians and Muslims, and it should be a place of dialogue for all three faiths, the director-general said.
Bokova called on “all parties to ensure that cultural heritage, including religious, is preserved and accessible to all and to resume dialogue in the spirit of mutual understanding.”
The United Kingdom welcomed her statement.
“We are working with the UNESCO Executive Board to carefully consider, before taking a decision, the impact any decision will have on the current situation across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” a British Embassy representative said on Tuesday.
Israel’s Ambassador to UNESCO in Paris Carmel Shama HaCohen said Russia was also opposed to reclassifying the Western wall as a Muslim holy site.
The six-page draft resolution – submitted by Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, broadly condemns Israeli actions in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
At no point does the resolution mention the Jewish historical connection to Jerusalem, which dates back to biblical times. Nor does it reference the Temple Mount or the Western Wall, which was part of the retaining wall King Herod built for the Temple Mount more than 2,000 years ago. It also relies solely on Arabic names for the holy sites on and around the Temple Mount.
HaCohen said the section on the Western Wall had alienated even those countries that typically support the Palestinians. Many countries have asked the Palestinians to remove that section, but as of Tuesday night, they have refused, he said.
“We are prepared for any scenario,” he said, and added that it is possible it will pass.
He is particularly concerned that resolution on the Western Wall, which also blames Israel for the violence on the Temple Mount would only serve to further inflame violence on the ground.
The Palestinians have used the Temple Mount as the driving engine for a campaign of incitement against Israel.
No matter what happens on Wednesday, he said, the problem is that Israel has to find a way to make peace with a leadership that has issued a resolution that attempts to rewrite history and disconnect the Jewish people from their holy sites, he said.
“You can not say that those who are trying to pass this are seeking peace,” HaCohen said.
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