Arab states could resurrect the contentious Jerusalem resolutions disavowing or ignoring Jewish ties to the Temple Mount at UNESCO’s executive board, UN officials hinted to The Jerusalem Post.
They spoke on condition of anonymity in the aftermath of the formal withdrawal this week of both Israel and the United States from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations over anti-Israel bias.
Already on Thursday, the Palestinian Authority’s cabinet in an English-language statement called on UNESCO to create a fact-finding mission on Jerusalem.
The mission should “investigate the Israeli aggression against the history of Jerusalem, al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Old City in order to uncover the Israeli colonial plans, expose its repercussions, and work immediately to halt the Israeli excavations acts,” the PA cabinet said.
Over the past 12 months, UNESCO had scrambled under the leadership of its director-general Audrey Azoulay to de-politicize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the international body charged with protecting global cultural heritage.
“Unfortunately, the US and Israel leaving the organization weakens this effort, which is truly unfortunate,” a UNESCO official said.
Its efforts were symbolized by its ability to neutralize the Jerusalem resolutions that had been passed twice a year by the organization’s 58-member executive board.
A UNESCO official told the Post that it was frustrating that both Israel and the US had not rescinded their decision, given how much work had gone into ending the controversy over the texts.
The new benign resolution on Jerusalem passed twice by executive board consensus in 2018 had the approval of both the Israeli and Palestinian delegations, an official said.
But it would be difficult to continue such dialogue without an Israeli ambassador.
“As the results obtained were based on the mediation between two sides, the absence of Israel could harm the neutral texts in the future. It is always better to be at the table,” the UNESCO official explained.
The next executive board meeting is scheduled for April 2019, but the US, which has a seat on the board, will not be present. An Israeli representative, which had the right to speak before, can now only do so at the invitation of the board.
“What we want to emphasize is the importance of the reality, contrary to fake news. The reality is that we had only consensual texts since October 2017, with the agreement of Israeli and Palestinian authorities. And we launched a number of programs to fight antisemitism through education,” the UNESCO official said.
“What we want is to continue this whole effort to fight the political instrumentalization of UNESCO. We want to stick to that,” the official said.
When it comes to global cultural issues, both countries can continue to enjoy many of the benefits of UNESCO. Individual US and Israeli officials can continue to participate in its programs and sit on it professional boards.
Israel accepted the World Heritage convention in 1999 and the United States in 1973. Their UNESCO withdrawal does not impact their participation in the World Heritage program, including the ability to nominate sites for inscription on the World Heritage List.
But it will be more difficult for them to promote those sites in the absence of ambassadors or active missions to UNESCO.
Initiatives on the Holocaust and antisemitism by UNESCO also continue. This includes the one launched this year on the UNESCO website to combat Holocaust denial and the new global guidelines to address antisemitism through education.
The moment of largest technical impact occurred already in 2011, in the aftermath of the UNESCO vote to recognize Palestine as a state. Both Israel and the United States stopped paying their dues and as a result lost voting rights in 2013.
Their withdrawal stops the clock on both their bills, which for Israel was more than $8.5 million and for the US at over $617 million, but it does not dissolve them from needing to pay.
But now their participation in official meetings will be by invitation only – as opposed to by right – delegating them more to the status of active NGOs than member countries.
This will make it hard it harder for either country to publicly advocate for a position and to benefit from the advocacy moment afforded them at the public debates.
The PA cabinet said it held that Israel was still obligated to abide by UNESCO’s decisions and to cooperate with its committees.
Israel’s withdrawal, it charged, was an attempt to avoid implementation of past UNESCO resolutions on Jerusalem, the PA cabinet said.
The resolutions, it added, reveal the “false Israeli narrative that misled the public opinion and the international community for decades.”
Israel and the United States have been largely silent about the withdrawal that went into effect during the New Year holiday. The only statements issued were those by Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon and outgoing US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.
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