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Israel still outraged by new 'softened' version of UNESCO resolution

Oct. 26, 2016 5:08 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 27, 2016 1:15 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM -- A new version of a UNESCO resolution that strongly condemned Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinians territory was approved on Wednesday after widespread uproar from Israel and its supporters claimed that the previous text denied Jewish ties to the location of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East Jerusalem’s Old City.

The resolution was backed by ten World Heritage Committee members states, opposed by two, with eight abstaining.

However, Israeli media sites reported that the revised version continued to “ignore Judaism's connection” to the holy site, as the text still only referred to the compound by its Arabic and Muslim names -- Al-Aqsa or al-Haram al-Sharif -- and not as the Temple Mount as it is known to Jews.

Amid the uproar, the issues raised in the resolution itself regarding several Israeli policies against Palestinians at the holy site have largely fallen to the wayside.

As a Palestinian representative to UNESCO put it after the initial text was approved, the resolution was "about occupation, not about a name," asserting that the Geneva Conventions required the site be referred to by the name that predated Israel's illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.

The wording of the new resolution was “softened,” according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, removing the term "occupying" force in regards to Israel, and now refers to the Western Wall by its Jewish name and not in quotations as it had been previously.

However, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, reportedly said after the vote: “This is yet another absurd resolution against the State of Israel, the Jewish people and historical truth.”

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, also slammed the new resolution, saying, “UNESCO embarrassed itself by marching to the tune of the Palestinian pipers. All attempts to deny our heritage, distort history and disconnect the Jewish people from our capital and our homeland, are doomed to fail.”

The revised resolution followed a robust diplomatic campaign by the state of Israel, which reportedly included Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally making phone calls to foreign ministers and heads of UNESCO member countries to convince them to demand a vote and to oppose or abstain.

According to Haaretz, contacts were made by Israel and the US via “secret channels,” which culminated in a panel session Wednesday morning when Palestinians and representatives of the Arab countries “were surprised” that Croatian and Tanzanian ambassadors demanded a secret vote, rather than passing the decision by consensus, as is permitted by UNESCO regulations.

Meanwhile, the PLO voiced its support for the resolution in a statement Wednesday saying that, “Contrary to what the Israeli government claims, the resolution that was voted by UNESCO aims at reaffirming the importance of Jerusalem for the three monotheistic religions,” adding that Al-Aqsa “continues to be threatened by the systematic incitement and provocative actions of the Israeli government and extremist Jewish groups.”

“Through an orchestrated campaign, Israel has been using archaeological claims and distortion of facts as a way to legitimize the annexation of Occupied East Jerusalem,” the statement added.

The resolution’s approval also came after reports emerged Tuesday suggesting that Israeli police would now recommend permitting members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, after they were banned last October in an attempt to ease tensions at the site.

Tensions around occupied East Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound were a main contributor to a wave of unrest that began last October, after right-wing Israelis made frequent visits to the site during the Jewish holiday season this time last year.
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