Wednesday, December 02, 2020

UNESCO passes resolution critical of Israelís actions in East Jerusalem

By Owen Millar - May 06, 2017
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [Jerusalem] [UN]

UNESCO’s resolution passed last Tuesday (22 in favour, 10 against, 23 abstaining) is a quaint addition to the framework of political and legal instruments hovering in the ether above the Jerusalem question.

The resolution treads old ground in asserting the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem for “the three monotheistic religions” and declaring the Jerusalem Basic Law, and other legislative instruments aimed at altering the “character and status of the city”, as “null and void”. These assertions reflect an ongoing international challenge to Israel’s claim of sovereignty over Jerusalem in its entirety. Israel’s Basic Law declares Jerusalem to be the “complete and united” capital of Israel, while prohibiting the transference of authority over the city to any foreign entity.

In this aspect, the resolution represents an echoing repudiation of a law that has been officially and pragmatically enforced by Israel since 1980. For its part, Israel has continued to ignore UN resolutions. “This is an empty decision that joins a pile of empty decisions,” said Israel’s Minister for Education, Naftali Bennet. “UNESCO can’t decide if we’re the sovereign or not. It’s like they decided there’s no gravity.”

The resolution did also express specific concern for Israel’s failure “to cease the persistent excavations, tunnelling, works and projects in East Jerusalem, particularly in and around the Old City of Jerusalem.” Emek Shaveh, an Israeli NGO that advocates for the cessation of politicised archaeological work by Israel, welcomed this aspect of the resolution, condemning Israel’s building and excavation projects within the Old City, which it regards as being “detrimental to the character of Jerusalem.”

Emek Shaveh has been a long-time critic of Israel’s archaeological approach to the city, which it regards as intentionally disregarding accepted modern archaeological practices to achieve political, rather than scientific, ends. The practice of “tunnelling” referenced in the resolution, for example, directly contravenes the accepted practice of gradually revealing a historical site, stratum by stratum, to uncover the continuum of its history. In the case of the Old City, Israel seeks to tunnel directly to the archaeological artefacts that lend a stronger hand to its claim that the city is intrinsically Jewish, while, at the same time, disregarding and damaging those elements of the site that do not.

The resolution makes further statements about the necessity for Israel to cease its administrative and physical abuse of historic religious sites in Hebron and Bethlehem (the 'Tomb of the Patriarchs’ and 'Rachel’s Tomb’), and also “deplores” Israel’s ongoing restrictions on the Gaza Strip.

Beyond the specifics of the resolution itself, the divergent responses of Israel and various blocs of the international community are perhaps the most important and operative aspects of its passing.

The opposition to the resolution by the US and key European powers (including Germany and Great Britain), along with a substantial number of notable abstentions (including France), represents a positive step forward for Israel’s intentions of having its claim of sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem to be internationally recognised. Even though the resolution was passed, the combined majority of nations who opposed or abstained is indicative of an international scene that is increasingly unwilling to oppose Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem.

Israel demonstrated the acuteness of its hostility to any party that might oppose such an intention, with Palestinian News Agency Ma’an reporting on Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had summoned Sweden’s (the only European country that voted to uphold the resolution) Ambassador for punitive talks, and also announced that Israel would withhold $1 million in payments from the UN.

Israel’s dedicated diplomatic efforts in the lead-up to the vote also appear to have been effective, the results reflecting a shift in the positions of Britain and France, in particular, from their support for UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which was passed in December of last year and served as an historic condemnation of Israeli settlement activity.

While Palestinian officials generally welcomed the passing of the resolution, they also regretted the decision of those European countries who abstained or voted against it.
"It is extremely disturbing that there are European countries that voted against such a resolution even though in accordance with international law and global consensus, Jerusalem is occupied territory," PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said in a press release.


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