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.
European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council has decided to adopt the French peace initiative, according to a statement released Monday afternoon.
“The Council welcomes the Joint Communiqué on the Middle East peace initiative adopted at the Ministerial meeting in Paris on 3 June 2016,” it read.
“The Council reiterates its support for a just, sustainable and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and peace and stability in the region. The EU is determined, alongside other international and regional partners, to bring a concrete and substantial contribution to a global set of incentives for the parties to make peace.
“The Council also reaffirms the European proposal, as endorsed in the Council Conclusions of December 2013, of an unprecedented package of political, economic and security support to be offered to and developed with both parties in the context of a final status agreement.”
The Foreign Affairs Council consulted with the Quartet, comprised of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, before coming to its decision. A full report will be released this weekend, though Israeli officials are already concerned about its content.
Officials in Jerusalem have not yet commented on the statement.
Israel embarked on a P. R. campaign to play down the extent of the threat which surfaced in one day in the discovery of Hamas tunnel near Kibbutz Sufa, and the suicide bombing of Jerusalem bus No. 12 on April 18, with 20 people injured. The police initially claimed for example that the explosion was due to a technical problem with the engine. But the two developments actually represented a sharp and serious escalation of the Palestinian wave of terror against Israel.
Neither of the operations was carried out by “lone wolves” but rather by large terror networks. The secret tunnel discovered in the Gaza border area was built by the Hamas military wing, the Izaddin al-Qassam brigades, while the suicide bombing in Jerusalem was carried out by the Hamas infrastructure in Judea and Samaria, specifically its operatives in the Bethlehem area.
Each of these terror networks poses a different challenge to Israel.
In Gaza, the Hamas political leadership is no longer in contact with the heads of its military wing. Neither the top commanders nor the regional commanders of the brigades obey any Hamas political body. They only heed three sources:
1. The Hamas military command framework headed by Mohammad Deif and Marwan Issa.
2. Iranian or Hizballah intelligence services, which maintain contacts with them and often provide funds or weapons.
3. The ISIS affiliate in the Sinai, with which the Hamas military wing maintains operational ties.
There is an equally serious problem in Judea and Samaria. Over the past few weeks, the Hamas terror networks have started to make contact with sleeper cells from Fatah’s Tanzim paramilitary force that have the knowledge, ability, means and experience for major terrorist attacks against Israel, such as the Jerusalem bus bombing.
This dormant wing of Mohammad Abbas’s Fatah has began to show signs of life and willingness to return to the path of terror.
These contacts began immediately after publication of a letter from jailed Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti to members of the force that called on them to start coordinating their operations against Israel with Hamas. Nobody has bothered to explain how a senior terrorist jailed in a high-security Israeli prison succeeded in smuggling such a letter out.
The link between part of the Tanzim and the Hamas terror networks is no less dangerous than the tunnel discovered near Kibbutz Sufa, and it presages an escalation of terror operations in the future.
The only way to prevent a major deterioration of the security situation is to strike targets of the Izzadin al-Qassam brigades. There is no need to launch a total war against Hamas or to occupy Gaza.
But instead of responding as needed, Israel’s government and security establishment have released pictures of digging equipment that has finally succeeded in locating a single Hamas infiltration tunnel out of the many that exist, and claimed that those responsible for the Jerusalem bombing have yet to be identified. At the same time, senior officials and IDF officers continue to assert that Hamas is not seeking escalation.
Unfortunately, this can only mean a resurgence of the wave of terror.