UNESCO delegation arrives on rare inspection trip to J'lem

Israel lets delegation inspect preservation work.

Damascus Gate 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Damascus Gate 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
A delegation from UNESCO, the United Nation’s cultural organization, arrived Sunday to inspect preservation work in Jerusalem’s Old City, as part of a deal whereby Israel would let the delegation tour the Old City, and the Palestinians would postpone five anti-Israel resolutions pending before the body.
One Foreign Ministry official characterized the visit as “professional” and not political, and said the delegation would neither go to the Temple Mount nor deal with the issue of the Mughrabi Bridge.
Nevertheless, the Jordanian royal palace issued a statement in April, after the deal enabling the delegation to arrive was agreed upon, saying “Jordan and Palestine, supported by Arab states, succeeded in pressuring Israel, for the first time since 2004, to accept and facilitate a UNESCO experts’ mission to investigate and assess the status of heritage and conservation of the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls.”
UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, accepted “Palestine” as a member in 2011, a move that angered Jerusalem and Washington and led the US to cut off its annual contribution to the organization.
UNESCO 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 are to “examine the state of conservation of the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls, a World Heritage site.” The mission is made up of experts from UNESCO’s World Heritage Center, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, and the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property. It is to present its report and recommendations before the beginning of the World Heritage Committee’s annual meeting on June 1.
The Foreign Ministry is hosting the delegation, a ministry official said, since Israel is “the responsible party for maintaining and preserving” the site.
The agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in April to green-light the visit was viewed as a diplomatic achievement, brokered by the US and Russia. The agreement by the Palestinians to shelve their resolution 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.
The five resolutions that the Palestinians temporarily shelved in UNESCO dealt with the Temple Mount, the Mughrabi Bridge leading to the Temple Mount from the Western Wall Plaza, Bethlehem, Hebron and Gaza.
Under the deal, Israel agreed to attend a UNESCO meeting to be held in June in Paris to discuss the Mughrabi Bridge.
The bridge has been the subject of contention since the original earthen ramp there collapsed during a snowstorm in 2004. Repair work on a temporary bridge there in 2007 touched off widespread Muslim rioting in Jordan and Jerusalem, and efforts to build a permanent replacement for the temporary bridge are considered extremely sensitive.