Ahead of UNESCO vote, Netanyahu says Jews closest to Jerusalem

‘There is no other people for whom Jerusalem is as holy and important as for the Jewish people’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at a ceremony for outstanding soldiers at the President's Residence in Jerusalem. May 2, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at a ceremony for outstanding soldiers at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. May 2, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

PM accuses UN body of denying ‘historical truth,’ rebuffing measure that indicates no Israeli claims to city

(SOURCE)   Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday harshly criticized a resolution by the UN’s cultural agency that seemingly rejects the Jewish state’s sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem, saying the measure ignores the strength Jewish people’s millennia-long bond to Israel’s capital city.

Speaking at the Bible Quiz held annually on Independence Day, Netanyahu said that despite the text of the resolution, Judaism has deeper roots in Jerusalem that any other religion.

“There is no other people in the world for whom Jerusalem is as holy and important as for the Jewish people, even though a meeting will take place at UNESCO today that will try to deny this historical truth,” he said.

“We denounce UNESCO and uphold our truth, which is the truth,” that “throughout Jewish history Jerusalem was the heart of the nation.”

On Tuesday afternoon, UNESCO is expected to pass the latest in a series of resolutions seen an unfairly critical of Israel.

Submitted to UNESCO’s Executive Board by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, the resolution on “Occupied Palestine,” which indicates that Israel has no legal or historical rights anywhere in Jerusalem, is widely expected to pass, given the automatic anti-Israel majority in the 58-member body.

Its wording as of Monday was slightly less harsh on Jerusalem than previous resolutions, in that it does affirm the importance of the city to the “three monotheistic religions.”

In the lead up to Tuesday’s vote, Israeli diplomats were busy trying to prevent an European-Arab agreement that would see the council’s European members either vote in favor or abstain in exchange for a slightly softer text.

Netanyahu was said to be making phone calls to European leaders in a bid to convince them to reject the resolution.

Israeli C-130 transport planes flt over Jerusalem during celebrations marking Israel's 69th Independence Day on May 2, 2017. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

Israeli C-130 transport planes fly over Jerusalem during celebrations marking Israel’s 69th Independence Day on May 2, 2017. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

According to Israeli officials, Germany was a driving force behind a deal that would see all EU states abstain in exchange for the removal of the most incendiary anti-Israel passages. But on Monday, Italy announced that it would vote against the resolution, apparently ending the effort to forge a European consensus.

“I have given clear instructions to our representative in the organization to vote against the political decision on Jerusalem, which is being discussed on an Israeli holiday, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said Tuesday, according to the Ynet news website.

“UNESCO can not be a place to settle ideological conflicts where questions are raised that are unrelated to us.”

Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, told The Times of Israel that the Italian stance broadcast to Berlin the folly of trying to negotiate over the passage, rather than just quashing it.

“This [Italian stance] is without a doubt a positive development, which should tell the Germans that negotiating over a joint text with the Arabs is a mistake not just in Israel’s view but also in the eyes of several countries in the European Union,” he said.

“Now we are focusing on our mission to make sure Italy will be the first but not the last country to announce it does not want to be part of this deal with the Arabs and vote against the resolution.”

Israel's ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama-Hacohen throws a copy of the day's resolution on Jerusalem in the trash on Wednesday, October 26, 2016. (Erez Lichtfeld)

Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama-Hacohen throws a copy of the day’s resolution on Jerusalem in the trash on Wednesday, October 26, 2016. (Erez Lichtfeld)

Jerusalem prefers to see Western countries vote against a harsher resolution, even if it passes, than a consensus in support of a milder text.

Given that there no longer appears to be a European consensus, it is possible that Germany will also oppose the resolution. The Netherlands and Lithuania are also still on the fence, according to diplomatic sources who spoke to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity.

The US is widely expected to oppose the resolution. “UNESCO is too often used as a vehicle for member states inclined to delegitimize the State of Israel, and [its resolutions] have become increasingly political in nature, in this case, questioning Israel’s basic claim to historic sites,” a US official told The Times of Israel. “These types of resolution are counterproductive to the core work of UNESCO and they do nothing to advance the goal of a two-state solution.”

The Arab group at UNESCO proposes similar anti-Israel resolutions twice every year, but after Israel cried foul last year over the fact that these texts provocatively ignored Jewish ties to Jerusalem’s Old City, a number of Western countries announced their intention no longer to support them.

This development is likely behind the negotiations over an Arab-European compromise text, which would remove the most blatant anti-Israel elements.

As it stood on Monday, Tuesday’s resolution, unlike previous resolutions, does not refer to the Temple Mount only as Haram al-Sharif, or to the Western Wall Plaza only as al-Burak plaza, the respective sites’ Muslim names. In fact, these sites are not mentioned at all.

Furthermore, Resolution 201 EX/PX/DR.30.1 affirms “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions.” It also notes that the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem, both of which are in the West Bank, “are of religious significance for Judaism, Christianity and Islam” — though it calls them “Palestinian sites.”

The entrance to Rachel's Tomb, near the West Bank town of Bethlehem (Photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The entrance to Rachel’s Tomb, near the West Bank town of Bethlehem (Photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

However, the current draft of the resolution still contains many red flags for Israel. For instance, Israel is referred to throughout the document as the “occupying power,” indicating that it has no legal or historical ties to any part of Jerusalem.

Israel officials acknowledged that the resolution to be passed Tuesday is somewhat easier to stomach than previous versions, but emphatically urged Western countries to vote against it.

“We hope that the European countries will not fall into the trap of a softened text and vote against any effort to politicize UNESCO and hurt Jerusalem status Israel’s eternal capital,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon told The Times of Israel.

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