The draft resolution adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on October 14 is so ahistorical and unjust that its director-general, Irina Bokova, was compelled to disavow it.
By a 24-6 margin, with 26 abstentions, the UN agency passed a motion that essentially tries to sever the historical link between Judaism and an important site in eastern Jerusalem — the Temple Mount. Sponsored by Arab countries and endorsed by the Palestinian Authority, this misbegotten draft resolution brazenly questions Israel’s historic roots and legitimate place in the region.
Tellingly titled “Occupied Palestine,” the draft resolution focuses on the Temple Mount, a compound sacred to Jews and Muslims alike. Captured by the Israeli army during the Six Day War and administered by Muslim clerics ever since, the Temple Mount complex consists of the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, both of which are inextricably bound up with the prophet Mohammed and Islam.
The Western Wall, once referred to as the Wailing Wall, is an integral part of the Temple Mount, which is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The Western Wall, the outer retaining wall of the Temple Mount, is the last remaining remnant of two ancient Jewish temples, which were destroyed by the Babylonians and the Romans.
A flash point of clashes between Palestinian Arabs and Israeli security forces, the Temple Mount has been at the vortex of the Arab-Israeli conflict since the British Mandate. And the reason is clear. The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, though Jews are not allowed to pray there, and the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina.
Despite its paramount importance to Judaism, the draft resolution placed the Western Wall Plaza in inverted commas, as if its relevance to observant Jews is questionable. By contrast, the draft resolution deliberately omitted quotation marks in its reference to the Noble Sanctuary’s Al-Buraq Plaza.
Presumably, the sponsors and supporters of the draft resolution were intent on drawing attention to and condemning Israel’s nearly 50-year occupation of eastern Jerusalem. But in lambasting Israel’s presence in eastern Jerusalem, which the Palestinians seek as the capital of their future state, they crossed a red line by implicitly questioning Israel’s legitimacy as a sovereign state.
Friendly countries like Russia, China, Brazil and Mexico, which voted for the draft resolution that Israel denounced, support Israel’s existence unreservedly but decry its occupation of eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Egypt and Jordan, the only two Arab nations to have signed peace treaties with Israel, were in the forefront of formulating the draft resolution. While Jordan and Egypt have come to terms with Israel’s existence, they vehemently oppose its annexation and occupation of eastern Jerusalem.
It’s a sad commentary that the sponsors and supporters of the draft resolution were not in the least concerned that it challenged Israel’s legitimacy as a state. Irina Bokova, however, instinctively recognized its one-sidedness, intrinsic unfairness and immense distance from historic realities.
“Jerusalem is the sacred city of the three monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” she said. “It is in recognition of this exceptional diversity, and this cultural and religious coexistence, that it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.”
She added, “The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city. To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site.”
As she correctly pointed out, Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious texts offer undeniable proof that Jerusalem has been inhabited by Jews, Muslims and Christians since time immemorial.
This is not the figment of someone’s imagination.
The draft resolution, which may yet be validated by UNESCO’s executive board next week, does not contribute to peace in the Middle East by even one iota. If anything, it hardens positions on both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict and is counter-productive.
If reason prevails, UNESCO will permanently shelve it.