A UNESCO vote disavowing Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem that passed with only 38% of the voting countries actually supporting the measure represents a diplomatic victory for Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday, soon after the vote.
With 22 nations supporting the measure, 10 opposing it, 23 countries abstaining and three absent, the 58-member UNESCO Executive Board gathered in Paris on Israel’s birthday approved the resolution referred to as “occupied Palestine.”
“The number of countries who support this absurd UNESCO resolution is getting smaller,” Netanyahu told the diplomatic corps at an Independence Day reception.
It’s a significant shift from the passage of UNESCO Jerusalem resolutions last year, with 33 nations approving a controversial anti-Israel text in April and 24 voting for it in October.
With a determined effort, it will be possible to whittle that number down further, “because there is no need for these types of votes in the UN,” Netanyahu said.
Speaking at the International Bible Quiz prior to the vote, Netanyahu said there was no nation in the world to whom Jerusalem was more holy than to the Jewish people.
“I know that today there is a vote in UNESCO that will try to deny that simple truth, we reject UNESCO,” he said.
UNESCO resolution on Temple Mount in Jerusalem
Throughout Jewish history, he added, Jerusalem was “the heart of the people, the place to which everyone turned to, went to and prayed toward.”
Netanyahu was heavily involved in efforts that began Friday to get states that appeared as if they would support the watered-down resolution that was agreed upon with the Palestinians to vote against. The US, according to senior diplomatic officials, was also involved in this effort.
Israel had feared it would lose European support, particularly given that as a result of a German-led effort, the 11 EU states on the board had met with the resolution’s Arab sponsors to work on a common language.
But those efforts fell apart when both Italy and the UK stated that they would oppose the measures, while Sweden was bent on supporting it.
Israel’s Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama-Hacohen said that the Arab states were shocked on Tuesday to discover how badly the tide had turned against them.
The ten countries who opposed the measure were: the United States, Italy, the UK, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Greece, Germany, Paraguay, Togo and Ukraine.
Some of the countries that abstained were: Estonia, France, Slovenia, Spain, India, Japan, Kenya and Uganda.
Countries that supported the measure included: Russia, Iran, South Africa, China, Brazil and Vietnam.
Among the leaders Netanyahu spoke to in the last few days were the presidents of Ukraine, Paraguay and Kenya, as well as the prime minister of Greece and the foreign minister of Italy.
The resolution was submitted by: Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
The PA Foreign Affairs Ministry declared the vote a victory for international law and a statement against Israel’s “occupation” in Jerusalem.
The vote reaffirms “centrality of Jerusalem to world heritage as well as the need to confront the dangers posed by the illegal practices of Israel, the occupying power, in the city and elsewhere, which threaten the cultural and historical integrity of these invaluable sites.
“We reiterate [that] the single most important threat confronting Jerusalem and other important heritage sites in Palestine continues to be the Israeli occupation and its illegal practices, as well as its intransigence and refusal to respect international law and the obligations it must honor in accordance with these laws,” the ministry said.
It added that it was pleased that Israel’s “campaign of intimidation, political bullying and misinformation failed to achieve its desired results and was unable to derail the discussions and decision-making of states from the real and important issues addressed in the resolution.”
At issue is a text that states: “All legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem, are null and must be rescinded forthwith.”
MK Ahmed Tibi (Joint List) said that the text is in line with international law, which holds that east Jerusalem is a territory that has been “occupied” since 1967. “The Knesset’s annexation of Jerusalem doesn’t change that fact or create a new narrative,” he said.
“A two-state solution necessitates the creation of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital,” Tibi added.
The new text dropped a controversial element from the 2016 resolution that ignored Jewish ties to the Temple Mount, referring to it solely by its Muslim name of al-Haram al-Sharif.
This text now states that it reaffirms “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls to the three monotheistic religions.”
In the plenum, Shama-Hacohen told the Arab states, “You might think you won today, but actually you lost again and continue to lose with every passing day, as you insist on fighting medieval wars in a modern age.”
“Here we are and we are here to stay,” he said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said that the “expected political decision by UNESCO only hurts the relevance of an organization that is supposed to preserve culture and heritage, but which time after time is derelict in its duty when it comes to Israel.”
Israel, she said, “does not need legitimacy from political organizations for its unshakable historic connection to our eternal capital Jerusalem, a connection of more than 3,000 years that speaks out from every stone in the city.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon, meanwhile, expressed Israel’s anger at Sweden – the only EU country to vote for the resolution – in a tweet he posted. “Hard to believe Sweden is the only European country which voted against Israel at UNESCO today! Nothing short of shameful.” He capped the tweet off with a thumbs-down emoji.
It was not immediately clear whether or not Israel would summon Sweden’s ambassador to the Foreign Ministry to protest the vote.