Palestinian leaders reject Israeli criticism and urge UNESCO chief to implement will of cultural body’s member states.
Palestinian leaders have welcomed a decision by the United Nations cultural agency to adopt a resolution on occupied East Jerusalem that sharply criticises Israeli policies around the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, while Israel says it ignores Jewish ties to the key holy site.
A spokesman for Paris-based UNESCO said on Tuesday that the resolution, which caused Israel to suspend its cooperation with the agency, was adopted without a new vote after being approved at the committee stage last week.
The text, which touches on Israel’s management of Palestinian religious sites, refers throughout to the al-Aqsa mosque compound site in occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City only by its Muslim names: al-Aqsa and al-Haram al-Sharif.
Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is the third-holiest site in Islam. Jews refer to the site as the Temple Mount.
Palestine’s deputy ambassador to UNESCO, Mounir Anastas, told reporters the resolution “reminds Israel that they are the occupying power in East Jerusalem and it asks them to stop all their violations”, including archaeological excavations around religious sites.
The UNESCO resolution also condemned Israel for restricting Muslim access to the site, and for aggression by Israeli police and soldiers, while also recognising Israel as the occupying power.
“By criticising the report for the omission of the words Temple Mount, [Israel] glosses over more than two dozen detailed criticisms of Israeli actions in and around the Old City, which is after all occupied territory,” Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from West Jerusalem, said.
The resolution was submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan – and was originally passed with 24 votes in favour, six against, and 26 abstentions.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said in a statement on Thursday that UNESCO had lost its legitimacy by adopting this resolution.
“The theatre of the absurd at UNESCO continues, and today the organisation adopted another delusional decision which says that the people of Israel have no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall,” Netanyahu said.
In April, UNESCO also passed a resolution condemning “Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against the freedom of worship and Muslims’ access to the al-Aqsa Mosque”, also failing to mention the site’s Jewish name.
In 2011, the Palestinians were admitted as a member state of the organisation, which led the United States to suspend its payments to UNESCO.
The latest resolutions created unease at the top of the organisation, with Michael Worbs, who chairs UNESCO’s executive board, saying he would have liked more time to work out a compromise.
“We need more time and dialogue between the members of the board to reach a consensus,” he told AFP news agency.
UNESCO chief Irina Bokova had distanced herself from Thursday’s vote, saying in a statement: “Nowhere more than in Jerusalem do Jewish, Christian and Muslim heritage and traditions share space.”
But Riyad al-Maliki, the Palestinian foreign minister, responded to Bokova by describing her comments as “completely unacceptable”.
“The Palestinian government expects Ms Bokova to focus her efforts on implementing the will of member states and preserving Jerusalem from the Israeli systematic colonisation and assault on its Palestinian character,” said Maliki.
Al-Aqsa Mosque is located in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed following its invasion in 1967 – in a move never recognised by the international community – as part of its subsequent military occupation of the West Bank.
Jewish settlers and Zionist organisations have called for complete Jewish control over the mosque compound.
Jewish groups’ incursions into the mosque compound have continuously led to Palestinian protests across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli military and armed settler incursions have resulted in Palestinian deaths and injuries in recent years in particular. Muslim access to the religious site has also been tremendously limited by the army.