The United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is set to anger Israel for a second time in less than a week on Friday by voting on a Palestinian-led motion to have the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank, inscribed as a Palestinian world heritage site.
The UN body’s World Heritage Committee, currently meeting in Krakow, Poland, is expected to decide on the proposal on Friday, three days after passing a resolution denouncing Israeli activity in the Old City of Jerusalem.
On Tuesday, the heritage committee backed the Jerusalem resolution 10 to three, with eight abstentions. The Hebron motion is likely to pass as well.
The vote requires a two-thirds majority of those 21 member countries voting.
If passed, the Tomb of the Patriarchs could become the third cultural site on UNESCO’s “List of World Heritage in Danger” that is registered as located in the “State of Palestine.” The other two are the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem and the “cultural landscape of Southern Jerusalem,” around Battir.
Israel says the Hebron resolution — which refers to the city as “Islamic” — denies thousands of years of Jewish connection there.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told AFP the Palestinian plan to pass te Hebron motion was “fake news”.
“They are trying to rewrite Jewish history and the history of the region,” he said.
Nahshon accused the Palestinian Authority of seeking to pretend that the Tomb of the Patriarchs “is actually part of the Palestinian national heritage.”
Israel has been working behind the scenes against the resolution, with the help of the American ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, who has called on UNESCO’s focus and attention to not be “wasted on this sort of symbolic action.”
If the resolution passes it would be seen as a victory for the Palestinians and would be cited by Israel as a fresh example of the UN’s inherent anti-Israel bias.
In May, Israel reacted furiously when UNESCO’s executive board ratified a contentious 2016 resolution denying any legal or historical Israeli links to Jerusalem and calling Israel an “occupying power” in its capital. That resolution also criticized the Israeli government for archaeological projects in the capital and in Hebron and lambasted its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
In that resolution, the UN agency wrote that Hebron (and Bethlehem) was an “integral part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” and that it “deplores the ongoing Israeli excavations, works, construction of private roads for settlers and of a Wall inside the Old City of Al-Khalil/Hebron which are illegal under international law and harmfully affect the authenticity and integrity of the site.”
Tuesday’s Jerusalem resolution softened the language somewhat, stressing “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions,” and not referring to the Temple Mount compound solely by its Muslim names, “Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” as the 2016 resolution did, defining it as “a Muslim holy site of worship.”
The resolution slammed “the failure of the Israeli occupying authorities to cease the 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.”
Israeli officials angrily rejected the resolution, despite the softened language, with the Foreign Ministry saying the decision cannot change the reality that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people.
“Another bizarre and irrelevant decision by UNESCO, that is acting on behalf of the enemies of history and the truth,” the Foreign Ministry said in statement. “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people, and no decision by UNESCO can change that reality. It is sad, unnecessary and pathetic. It is worth noting that the decision didn’t even get a majority of votes.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement welcomed the vote. Fatah spokesman in Europe Jamal Nazzal said it was “historic justice” and was “another reflection of the international position which opposes Israeli policy, and of our position which rejects recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the occupation.”
The annual vote on a Jerusalem-themed resolution was originally scheduled to take place next week. But Palestinian diplomats advanced the debate, presumably to blindside Israeli officials who were busy fighting off the Hebron motion.