Israel will find itself fighting on two fronts at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee annual assembly in Poland next week after Jordan put forward a motion to keep the Old City of Jerusalem on its list of endangered sites. Another motion will seek to have the Old City of Hebron – including the Tomb of the Patriarchs – added to the list and registered under the “State of Palestine.”
The wording of the resolution on Jerusalem has been watered down from a similar one passed last year which made no mention of Jewish ties to the site. However it still attacks Israel for “persistent excavations, tunneling, works, projects and other illegal practices in East Jerusalem, particularly in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, which are illegal under international law.”
The international body also cites Israel’s refusal to allow UNESCO to appoint a permanent representative to be stationed in eastern Jerusalem.
Diplomatic sources said that the softening of the resolution was a result of more and more countries supporting Israel, rather than automatically backing the Palestinian position.
“The softening of the text does not stem from a love of Israel or from a change of heart of the Palestinians and their partners but because of growing pressure on them and the results of recent votes, which from their point of view are disastrous,” said Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama Hacohen.
The previous vote on Jerusalem passed by 10-2 with 8 against and one no-show.
Hacohen said Israel would oppose any vote on Jerusalem regardless of whether the resolution has been watered down.
“As far as we are concerned the motion seeks obsessively to blacken Israel… Israel does not want the resolution to be softened, it wants an end to this shameful obsession,’ Hacohen said.
Israel is also fighting a Palestinian-sponsored motion to have the Old City of Hebron listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Israel blocked a fact-finding trip from entering Hebron last week, saying the conclusions of the mission – acceptance of Palestinian claims that Israel is endangering the site – had been pre-determined.
“(This is) an attempt to create a new reality on the ground at a place that is one of the foundations of the heritage of the Jewish people and to turn into a Palestinian heritage site,” Shama-Hacohen said.
“Our main goal right now is to prevent a consensus on a decision on Jerusalem and to block registration of Hebron [as a Palestinian site] either by getting the Palestinians to withdraw the request through international pressure or by beating them in the vote for the first time in the history of UNESCO,” he added.
Israel would need eight members of the committee to vote “no” in order to block the resolution.