In a dramatic upset the World Heritage Committee approved Wednesday, with less than a majority vote, a resolution that ignored Jewish ties to the Temple Mount.
Israel had feared the matter would pass by consensus, or that only a few of the 21-member states would abstain or oppose the text.
Instead, Tanzania and Croatia had asked for a secret ballot. When the votes were counted, only ten countries had voted for the motion, 2 opposed it and one nation, Jamaica, was absent from the room.
Israel’s Ambassador to UNESCO, under whose umbrella the World Heritage Committee met in Paris on Wednesday, blasted the committee for its stance.
“You have just adopted a [resolution] against historical truth and one that stands in complete and utter contradiction to all values,” he said.
The Palestinian Authority representative said, “Today we came with an open mind to seek a consensus agreement.” He accused Israel of turning an issue about right into one about religion. As the issue moves forward “it will be clear which party is trying to
politicize” the issue “in a dangerous way.”
But the US said these resolutions “undermine support for the very legitimacy of this organization” and “urge the members to embrace an approach in which we can all work together.”
It was presumed from the outset that the 21-member World Heritage Committee would approve the resolution that ignores Jewish ties to the Temple Mount, particularly given its unfriendly roster of states including Lebanon, Kuwait, Cuba, Indonesia and Tunisia.
At issue for Israel, therefore, was not the passage of a resolution on Jerusalem, but rather the content of the text and the number of states, if any, that would oppose or abstain from the vote.
But already on Monday, Palestinian Authority and Jordan changed the nature of such a strategy by threatening to strengthen the Muslim claims to the site in the resolution, unless there was a consensus vote on the existing text.
Israel’s Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama-HaCohen said, “They are broadcasting a message that says don’t abandon us or we’ll burn the house down with extremist anti-Israel resolutions.”
WHC member states such as Poland, Croatia, Finland and Portugal, who are not predisposed to support the text, can either sit quietly and allow of a watered down version of the text. Or they can make a moral stand, but at the cost of assured passage of a much harsher text.
With the vote likely to be as early as 11 a.m., Israel was still pushing for a moral stand, rather than a watered down text by consensus.
It has not seen the harsher text, but it would likely resemble the one already passed at the 2015 WHC’s 39th session, which described Judaism’s most holy site solely by its Muslim name of Al Haram Al Sharif and spoke of the Buraq Wall, with the phrase Western Wall in parentheses.
That 2015 text spoke of the “Israeli occupation authorities” once and of Israel as an “occupying power at least ten times.”
When the WHC convened for the 40th session in Istanbul in July, a milder text was worked out with the help of the European Union, with an eye to passage of the resolution by consensus.
That July 2016 text spoke only once of the Israeli occupation authorities but removed all other references to Israel as an occupying power. It dropped the phrase Buraq Wall, but still spoke solely of the Temple Mount as a holy Muslim site.
The 2016 resolution, like the one in 2015, also charged that Israel had not protected and in some cases damaged the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City.
A failed Turkish coup, however, cut the 40th session in Istanbul, and forced UNESCO to reschedule three days of activity to an October 24 to 26 gathering in Paris.
The PA and Jordan expected that the modified softer text, would have been approved by consensus had the full session been held in July.
It had presumed that a similar consensus vote would be taken on Wednesday. Fearful that some countries, must abstain or even oppose it, the PA and Jordan sent all 21 WHC member states a warning letter asking for their positions on the vote in advance.
“Otherwise, the delegation of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the delegation of Palestine would, and according to the rules of procedure be obliged to, consider other options,” they stated.
“At the beginning of the current WHC40 session, we learned that a few member states are still hesitant whether they can commit to our agreement in Istanbul or not.”
The Jordanians and the Palestinians said they understood this “hesitance as a retreat from the consensual language.”
Shama-HaCohen said, “They are broadcasting a message that says don’t abandon us or we’ll burn the house down with extremist anti-Israel resolutions.”
He added that such resolutions would only cause tremendous damage to UNESCO, under whose umbrella the WHC operates.
Such threats and ultimatums only serve to reveal the true face of the Palestinians as “thugs” and “liars,” Shama Hacohen said.
Netanyahu in the last week has sent letters to many the heads of state of many WHC member.
On Wednesday, the Deputy Minister for Regional Cooperation Ayoub Kara (Likud) has an audience with Pope Francis and plans to raise the issue of such votes with him.
The text before the World Heritage Committee is part of a Palestinian drive at UNESCO to linguistically reclassify the Temple Mount as an exclusive Muslim site.
Since 2015 it has submitted version of this text at every possible opportunity, including one which was approved earlier this month by the 58-member UNESCO Executive Board.
Over the weekend the International Council on Monuments and Sites spoke out against the Jerusalem resolutions.
The independent professional body, which advises UNESCO on man made World Heritage Sites, decided to speak out after a board meeting in Istanbul, according to its Vice President Gideon Koren.
It stated “that there should be a clear distinction between political controversies and scientific facts and that political disputes … and political views can not justify statements which erase basic and well known and proven historical facts,” Koren said, who is an Israeli attorney.
Top UN officials have also spoke against these resolutions including outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNESCO Executive Board chairman Michael Worbs and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.
She met on Tuesday in Parish with Shama-Hacohen, the International Legal Forum and pro-Israel non-governmental group StandWithUS.
The two NGOS presented Bokova with a global petition of 76,000 signatures from those opposed to such resolutions.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of Wednesday’s vote, “This is a continuation of the theater of the absurd.
“Radical Islamic forces destroy mosques, churches and archeological sites, while Israel is the only state in the region that preserves them and allows freedom of worship for all religions.
“UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee deserves to be condemned, not Israel,” Netanyahu said.