(photo credit: Charles Platiau / Reuters)
Israel called off a planned visit by a technical delegation from UNESCO on
Monday to inspect conservation work in Jerusalem’s Old City, saying that the
Palestinians had “politicized” the delegation.
“The delegation as a
delegation has been postponed,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson
A Palestinian Authority official in Ramallah said that the PA
leadership was unaware of any Israeli decision to cancel the team’s mission and
was checking with UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organization, which is headquartered in Paris.
“The visit of the
UNESCO mission is a preface for the victory of Palestinian and Arab diplomacy,”
the PA’s Ministry of Information in Ramallah said.
UNESCO’s offices in
Paris were closed Monday because it was a French national holiday, but Sue
Williams, the organization’s spokeswoman, emailed a response to a Jerusalem Post
query confirming that the delegation had indeed been postponed.
that she had no other information.
“The Palestinians violated all the
agreements we had with UNESCO: that this was to be a purely professional, not a
political visit,” Hirschson said, saying they added a “slew” of political
elements into the visit.
Another diplomatic official said Palestinian
Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki characterized the team as an
investigative committee to examine Israeli steps in Jerusalem, while PA
President Mahmoud Abbas’s adviser on Jerusalem, Ahmed al-Ruweidi, tied the
delegation’s visit to the Temple Mount.
Maliki last week described the
UNESCO mission as a “historic achievement that would oblige Israel to protect
holy sites and refrain from harming them.”
Hirschson said that contrary
to an agreement brokered in April at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, the PA was
now insisting on taking the delegation to the Temple Mount and meeting with
Palestinian political personalities, not just “engineers, architects and
“We have said this was unacceptable” he said.
“Hopefully, the delegation is postponed and not cancelled.”
last-minute postponement, announced Sunday by Israel’s representation to UNESCO
in Paris, even caught the Foreign Ministry by surprise, with ministry officials
saying on Sunday
that members of the delegation had arrived, not knowing the
four-man team’s arrival was indeed called off.
The agreement in April that
paved the way for the delegation’s visit stated that Israel would allow the
UNESCO contingent to inspect preservation and conservation work at 18 sites in
the Old City – six synagogues, six mosques and six churches – in exchange for a
Palestinian agreement to postpone five anti-Israel resolutions pending before
UNESCO’s board meeting that month.
According to Israel, the agreement
stipulated that the delegation was not to go to the Temple Mount or deal with
the controversial issue of rebuilding the Mughrabi Bridge, leading from the
Western Wall Plaza to the Temple Mount.
UNESCO accepted “Palestine” as a
in 2011, in a move that led the US to cut off its annual contribution to
The UN body 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 were to “examine the state of conservation
of the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls, a World Heritage Site.”
mission was to present its report and recommendations before the beginning of
the World Heritage Committee’s annual meeting on June 1.
between Israel and the Palestinians regarding the delegation was brokered in
April by the US and Russia, and trumpeted at the time as a mild diplomatic
achievement. It 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.Khaled Abu Toameh and Daniel K. Eisenbud
contributed to this report.