UNESCO adopts resolution on al-Aqsa mosque

Sunday 23/10/2016
Palestinian Ambassador to UNESCO Elias Sanbar (L), flanked with Palestinian Deputy Ambassador Mounir Anastas, speaks to the media as he walks out of the meeting room at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, on October 17th.

Ramallah - The UN Educational, Sci­entific and Cultural Or­ganisation (UNESCO) adopted by consensus a resolution affirming Muslims’ connection to al-Aqsa mosque compound and other holy sites in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and condemned Israel’s violation of Palestinians’ freedom of worship.
Palestinians lauded the resolu­tion as a victory on the diplomatic level. It comes after the adoption of a similar resolution that used the Muslim terms only for the holy sites al-Aqsa mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif.
In the latest draft resolution sub­mitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, UNESCO’s executive board criti­cised Israel for several policies and measures, including its refusal to implement previous UNESCO deci­sions concerning Jerusalem.
The resolution requested UN­ESCO to appoint a permanent rep­resentative to be stationed in East Jerusalem to report on the situa­tion on a regular basis.
The vote passed with 24 coun­tries, including Russia, China, South Africa and Pakistan, in fa­vour. Mexico and Brazil sought a revote to change their votes from being in favour of the resolution but the request was denied. Brit­ain, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and the United States voted against the resolu­tion and another 26 countries ab­stained.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) said the decision sent a clear mes­sage that the international com­munity does not approve of poli­cies that protect the occupation and create a state of instability.
Israeli officials expressed dismay at the vote and said it would not cooperate with UNESCO. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netan­yahu referred to UNESCO’s session as a “theatre of the absurd” and described the decision as “delu­sional”.
He added: “UNESCO has lost what little legitimacy it had left.”
Some Israeli commentators, however, saw UNESCO’s note as a reflection of the Israeli govern­ment’s failure.
The resolution criticised Israel’s policy that restricts Muslim’s ac­cess to the site and aggressive tac­tics by Israeli police against the Ministry of Awqaf and its person­nel and against Muslims’ access to al-Aqsa mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif.
“The Executive Board… deeply deplores the failure of Israel, the occupying Power, to cease the per­sistent excavations and works in East Jerusalem particularly in and around the Old City,” the UNESCO statement said
The resolution also addressed reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, which the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) recently said Israel continues to hinder and reaffirmed that al-Haram al-Ibra­himi in Hebron and the Bilal Ibn Rabah mosque in Bethlehem were an integral part of the Palestinian territories.
Israel claimed that the resolu­tion denies Jewish connections to the city, even though the resolu­tion stated the importance of the Old City and its walls for the three Abrahamic religions.
Murad al-Sudani, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Commission for Education, Cul­ture and Science, said Israel tried to present the conflict as religious that targets the Jewish people. “We are not against Judaism, and the resolution affirmed all three mono­theistic religions’ connection to Je­rusalem unlike any other,” he said.
Palestinians argue that Israel aims to present the resolution as an attack against Jewish people to shift focus from the purpose of the resolution, which aims to end Is­rael’s dangerous and illegal actions against Palestinian rights and holy sites in Jerusalem.
The Palestinian Ministry of For­eign Affairs, in a news release, said: “We regret that some countries succumbed to the PR bullying or­chestrated by Israel, which shifted the focus from Israel’s illegal ac­tions in occupied East Jerusalem to issues irrelevant to the content and objectives of the resolutions.”
Alaa Abu Taha, a researcher in international relations and law, ar­gued that the vote was not momen­tous but still significant because it supported the Palestinian histori­cal narrative and went along with the internationalisation of the Pal­estinian cause.
He said the decision was a reflec­tion of the success of Palestinian diplomacy but should not be seen as a victory by itself. “UNESCO is not a political organisation,” he said, “but educational. We do com­mend the vote but it is not an ulti­mate victory.”
Sudani said he believed Palestin­ians, along with the Arab and Mus­lim world, must urgently intensify efforts to fight Israeli propaganda and its attempts to conceal the truth about its occupation.
“In a previous vote this year, 33 countries voted in favour of [the Palestinian territories] but only 24 voted in favour this time,” he said. Mexico’s and Brazil’s change of po­sition should not be taken lightly.”