UNESCO adopts resolution on al-Aqsa mosque
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.”