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Netanyahu OKs UN funding cuts, creation of settlement museum over UNESCO vote

July 9, 2017 8:26 P.M. (Updated: July 9, 2017 11:43 P.M.)
The Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. (File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed during a security cabinet meeting on Sunday his decision to withhold a further $1 million in Israel’s membership dues to the United Nations and invest this money in a settlement museum, in protest of a recent UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) vote to inscribe Hebron’s Old City and Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque in the occupied West Bank on the World Heritage in Danger list.

Friday’s resolution, filed by the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Tourism, the Hebron municipality, and the Hebron rehabilitation committee, argued that Hebron's Old City urgently needed protection from Israeli violations in the area that harmed the exceptional international value of the site.

Friday’s vote asserted that Hebron's Old City and the mosque would be registered in UNESCO's World Heritage List, and also stated that the two sites are to be recognized as being in danger, meaning that each year UNESCO's World Heritage Committee will convene to discuss their case.

However, authors of the submission have insisted there was no attempt to deny Jewish links, emphasizing that the move aimed rather to demonstrate the impact of the Israeli occupation on a site of international significance.

Reading a passage from the Torah referring to the Ibrahimi Mosque -- also known as the Cave of Patriarchs, where prominent Jewish religious figures are believed to be buried -- Netanyahu argued on Sunday that “the connection between the Jewish people and Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs is one of purchase and of history which may be without parallel in the history of peoples.”

Netanyahu went on to slam UNESCO for “yet another delusional resolution,” equating the international body’s recognition of Israeli violations in the West Bank city to a “denial” of historical Jewish presence in Hebron.

Netanyahu said that the $1 million cut from Israel’s contributions to the UN would be transferred to fund the creation of “the Museum of the Heritage of the Jewish People in Kiryat Arba and Hebron” -- referring to the illegal Hebron-area settlement housing notoriously aggressive settlers -- in order, the Israeli leader said, to “present to the world the historical truth and the Jewish People's deep connection of thousands of years to Hebron.”

Netanyahu added that he had also called for plans to move forward in the “City of David” archaeological site in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, which has been used by Israeli authorities to prove the existence Jewish presence in Jerusalem during Biblical times -- to the detriment of other cultures present in the area before or after, and displacing scores of Palestinian residents of Silwan in the process.

According to The Times of Israel, the most recent cut in Israeli funding to the UN was the fourth since December -- when the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2334 condemning Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise in the occupied Palestinian territory -- with Israel only paying $1.7 million out of $11.7 million in required dues, over its claims of anti-Israel bias in the international body.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Friday that UNESCO had made “the only logical and correct decision,” describing the move as a “victory for tolerance and diversity.”

“This vote celebrated facts and rejected the shameless high-profile political bullying and attempts at extortion,” the ministry said, and argued that Hebron’s Old City and the mosque have been “under threat due to the irresponsible, illegal, and highly damaging actions of Israel, the occupying power, which maintains a regime of separation and discrimination in the city based on ethnic background and religion.”

Hebron’s Old City, which is under full Israeli military control, is home to some 30,000 Palestinians and around 800 Israeli settlers who live under the protection of Israeli forces.

The Ibrahimi Mosque, where the Prophet Abraham is believed to be buried, has been a focal point of violence for decades, as the site is holy to both Muslims and Jews and has been a prime site for Israeli settler activities in the area. The holy site was split into a synagogue and a mosque after US-born Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians inside the mosque in 1994.

Since the split, Muslim worshipers have been denied access to the site during Jewish holidays and vice versa in effort to prevent violence from erupting.

While a UNESCO report ahead of the vote contained criticism of the Palestinian submission for focusing too much on the Muslims in Hebron at the expense of its Jewish and Christian past, the UN agency said it couldn’t recommend a decision either way because Israel prevented experts from visiting the site.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee also adopted a resolution on Tuesday reaffirming the international body’s non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty in occupied East Jerusalem, and condemning Israeli policies in the Old City there.

In October 2016, UNESCO officially adopted a resolution criticizing Israeli policies around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem, the Ibrahimi Mosque in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, and the Bilal Ibn Rabah Mosque -- also known as Rachel’s Tomb -- in Bethlehem.
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