PM tells Italian president Israel was ‘gravely disappointed’ by Rome’s abstention in UNESCO vote on Jerusalem, pleased by pledge it won’t happen again
November 2, 2016, 9:08 pm
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday told visiting Italian President Sergio Mattarella that Israel was “gravely disappointed” by Italy’s abstention in a UNESCO vote last month that ignored Jewish and Christian links to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, but was heartened to hear a subsequent pledge from Italy’s prime minister that it would oppose such resolutions in the future.
He also told his guest that the conflict with the Palestinians was never about their desire for their own state, but rather about their wish to destroy the Jewish state, and he insisted that it was wrong to see West Bank settlements as the root of the problem. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he asserted, won’t recognize a Jewish state “in any borders.”
“This conflict is not and never was about a Palestinian state, which successive Israeli governments, including this prime minister, have been willing to arrange — a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state,” Netanyahu said, speaking at the start of a meeting with Mattarella at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. “It was and is about the Jewish state, and unless and until our Palestinian neighbors face this, confront these demons, give up the ghost of trying to destroy the Jewish state by this or that means, peace will be harder to achieve.”
Noting that his guest had just met with the Abbas, Netanyahu charged that the PA leader “continues to refuse to accept a Jewish state in any boundaries, and this remains the core of the conflict — this persistent Palestinian refusal to accept a Jewish state in any configuration.”
The prime minister declared that criticism of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, land that the Palestinians want for a future state, is misguided. “I think the focus that people (place) on settlements is wrong. (The conflict) preceded the settlements by half a century. And when we left Gaza and all the settlements (in 2005), they continued to fire rockets at us,” he said.
Netanyahu said he had approached both “Hamas and President Abbas,” and asked if they would recognize the Jewish state if the settlement issue is resolved. “And they won’t, because the real settlement issue is the settlements of Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Haifa, Akko; the persistent refusal is to recognize a Jewish state in any borders,” he said.
Netanyahu recalled having seen the Arch of Titus in Rome which depicts the spoils of war looted by the Roman army from Jerusalem after it destroyed the Second Temple in 70 AD.
“I raise this because we’ve just had an absurd decision of UNESCO that said that the Jewish people have no connection to the Temple Mount. Well, the Arch of Titus was built by Titus’s brother, the Emperor Domitian. He wasn’t a Zionist propagandist. And he obviously was depicting that long, thousands-year connection to the Temple Mount, to Jerusalem and to this country of the Jewish people.”
Although Israel was disappointed by Italy’s abstention from voting on the resolution, Netanyahu said he was encouraged by Italian Prime Minister Renzi’s statement since then, vowing that Italy would change its voting position on future resolutions.
“UNESCO’s attempt to erase Jewish history is an attempt to say that Jews really don’t have any connection to our land. It’s not only false, blatantly false, it also makes the achievement of peace harder,” he said. “Denying our history is one of the means of denying the Jewish state. This is the bad news.”
“Now, the good news. The good news, the incredible news, one that fills me with great hope, is that there is a dramatic change taking place in the Arab world, and that change is that many of the Arab countries see Israel no longer as their enemy, but as their ally, even their vital ally, in fighting against Islamist terrorism, militant Islam, either led by Iran or led by Da’esh,” Netanyahu said, using the Hebrew acronym for the Islamic State group.
Times Of Israel
Despite Israeli efforts, World Heritage Committee will likely accept a resolution using only the Muslim name for the site
Just a week after the executive board of the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) ratified a controversial resolution that ignored Jewish and Christian ties to the Temple Mount, a similar resolution is expected to be passed by the body’s World Heritage Committee Wednesday.
Barring any last minute delay, the resolution, entitled “Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls,” will be presented before the committee’s 21 member states. As with last week’s contentious text, the latest draft is expected to pass with a comfortable majority.
The wording of the resolution has not yet been finalized, with frantic multi-party negotiations on the text continuing in UNESCO’s Paris headquarters through the night and into Wednesday morning. A draft of the resolution obtained by The Times of Israel on Sunday once again referred to the Temple Mount compound solely by its Muslim names, “Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” and defined it only as “a Muslim holy site of worship.”
As the site of the biblical temples, the mount is the holiest place in Judaism. Unlike last week’s resolution, the draft likely to be adopted Wednesday will not mention the importance of Jerusalem’s Old City for “the three monotheistic religions.”
Last week’s text referred to Israel as “the occupying power” at the holy sites. The new resolution does not, which Israel considers a minor victory. In addition, the new version doesn’t put quotation marks around the designation “Western Wall,” a punctuation seen in Israel as bolstering the original resolution’s disdain of a Jewish connection to Judaism’s holiest site.
The Foreign Ministry worked frantically through the night in a bid to delay the resolution, but it seemed unlikely that they would succeed, and officials said they viewed the outcome of the vote as a foregone conclusion.
“It seems that the resolution will pass and that UNESCO will continue to dance to the Palestinians’ tune,” Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, said Wednesday morning. The vote itself does not have much practical significance, he told Army Radio, but it shows the Palestinians that they can use the body to blame Israel for anything they wish. He referred to the Palestinian efforts as “incitement.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late Tuesday night that UNESCO’s second vote on the matter within a few days shows the organization remains a “theater of the absurd.” He said that while “extremist Muslim forces are destroying mosques and churches, Israel is the only country in the region that protects them and allows freedom of worship.”
According to Israel’s envoy to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, Netanyahu instructed him to work to convince countries likely to abstain to go further and cast a vote against the resolution, arguing that an abstention is akin to support. He described the resolution as “diplomatic jihad” against the Jewish people, Judaism and Christianity.
“Israel respects Muslim and other faiths and their presence in our holiest of places, and it is tragic that the other side doesn’t have a leadership that will do the same, but rather one that is engaged only in doing the exact opposite,” Shama-Hacohen said Tuesday during a meeting with UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova. “This is no longer an Israeli-Palestinian struggle, but an Arab struggle against the entire Jewish world. It is clear that Israel and the Jewish people will survive this, yet it remains unclear whether UNESCO will.”
Shama-Hacohen and the heads of two pro-Israel organizations, StandWithUs and the International Legal Forum, handed Bokova a petition signed by more than 77,000 Jews and Christians calling on UNESCO “to recognize the irrefutable deep historic, cultural and religious connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.”
Israeli diplomats in Paris were working to convince at least two member states to demand a vote on the resolution so that it would not pass on consensus, giving the appearance of a unanimous decision. So far only one of the European countries has agreed to press for a vote, officials said, without elaborating.
This year’s member countries of the committee make things particularly difficult for Israel. Germany, Columbia and Japan, all sympathetic nations to Israel, are no longer involved, and in their place are Tunisia, Kuwait, Lebanon and Indonesia, bringing to nine the total number of Muslim countries, which are all expected to vote in favor of the resolution, along with Vietnam. Poland, Finland, Croatia, Portugal, the four European countries, said they would abstain if the resolution is put to a vote.
The adoption of the resolution would lead to an absurd situation whereby the archaeological digs on and around the site of the Temple Mount, which have unearthed copious evidence of a Jewish connection to the site, may now be designated as destruction of the Muslim site.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.