US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley joined Israel in its adamant critique of UNESCO's decision to designate Hebron's Old City and the Cave of the Patriarchs as Palestinian territory and endangered world heritage sites in a sharply-worded statement released Friday night. "The UNESCO vote on Hebron is tragic on several levels," the US envoy said about the World Heritage committee's decision, approved by 12 countries in a secret ballot vote, to inscribe Judaism's second most holy site as part of the State of Palestine. "It [the decision] represents an affront to history," Haley charged, and added that "today's vote does no one any good and causes much harm." The US ambassador went on to express her concerns about the impact the vote would have on the stalled Middle East peace process and the future of the conflict. "It undermines the trust that is needed for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to be successful," she stressed. Haley then went on to deliver an overt jab at UNESCO. "It [the vote] further discredits an already highly questionable UN agency," she stated. Haley had already expressed her opposition to the vote earlier this week when she urged the UN to oppose the Palestinian Authority's request to inscribe the Old City of Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs on the World Heritage in Danger list on Monday ahead of the vote.
In a letter addressed to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, Haley questioned the logic of such a vote. "The Tomb of the Patriarchs, which is sacred to three faiths, is under no immediate threat. Such a designation risks undermining the seriousness such as assessment by UNESCO should have," she wrote. “Many precious sites — from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Libya to Iraq to Syria — are under real and imminent threat of destruction today. They urgently demand UNESCO’s full and immediate attention, which should not be wasted on this sort of symbolic action,” she added.“As the United States is engaged in trying to increase the chance of a peace deal that is in the best interest of both Israel and the Palestinians, this effort at UNESCO — the motto of which is “Building Peace in the Minds of Men and Women” — is particularly ill-timed and unfortunate,” Haley wrote.Haley has been known to take action against UN policies she views as biased and unjust, and has spoken out in defense of Israel numerous times in the past in relation to the world body's treatment of the Jewish state. In June Haley penned an opinion article for the Washington Post in which she lambasted the UN's Security Council for its harsh judgement of Israel. "The council must end its practice of wrongly singling out Israel for criticism," she wrote. Prior to Haley's statement the US representative to UNESCO spoke out against the vote as well, deeming it unnecessary and uncalled for. "The decision to inscribe Hebron/Al Khalil Old Town on an emergency basis is divisive, confusing and impossible to justify. The site is not under any real or immediate threat. The only urgency here is the urgency to express political anger." The US, which is still one of the 58 members of UNESCO's Executive Board, is currently evaluating its continued engagement at the UN agency and protested the agency's intent to go to vote on the matter when it was announced earlier in the week. Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.
UNESCO declares the Cave of the Patriarchs as Palestinian, angering Israel (Reuters)