Palestine Lauds, Israel Slams UNESCO Decree on Al-Aqsa, Resolution Sharply Criticizing Israeli Policies

Following a controversial UNESCO vote that saw the adoption of a draft resolution that sharply criticized Israeli policies around the Al-Aqsa Mosque, while supposedly rejecting Jewish ties to the holy site — referred to by Jews as the Temple Mount — was received warmly by the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement released Thursday.

Meanwhile, the resolution also criticized Israeli policies at the Ibrahimi Mosque in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, the Bilal ibn Rabah Mosque/Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, and strongly condemned Israeli military campaigns in the besieged Gaza Strip, while urging an end to the near decade-long Israeli blockade on the Palestinian enclave.

The resolution was passed after 24 countries voted in its favor, six voted against, and 26 abstained from the vote, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

While the resolution did not outrightly reject Jewish ties to the Al-Aqsa Mosque/Temple Mount, it was highly critical of Israeli policies in and around the site and Israeli attempts at changing the status quo, which prohibits Jewish worship at the site, and referred to the site only by its Islamic name “Al-Aqsa/Haram al-Sharif,” and did not mention the Jewish name “Temple Mount.”

However, the resolution did make clear that UNESCO recognizes the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem for the “three monotheistic religions” — Islam, Judaism, and Christianity — and highlighted the significance of the holy sites in Hebron and Bethlehem for all three religions.

“The only way to be treated like a normal state is if it starts acting like one”

The PA statement said that the decision to adopt the UNESCO resolution reflected the “continued commitment of the majority of member states to confront impunity and uphold the principles upon which UNESCO was founded.”

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has praised a resolution adopted Thursday by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) denying a Jewish link to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque complex (Haram al-Sharif), according to Anadolu Agency.

The resolution also condemns Israeli “aggression” against employees of the Jordan-run Organization for Muslim Endowments and Al-Aqsa Affairs, which is responsible for the upkeep of the mosque complex.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement that the resolution’s adoption underscores the need for the U.S. to review its “erroneous policies”, which, he said, “encourage Israel to continue its occupation of the Palestinian territories”.

“International resolutions against the Israeli occupation and its policies, along with the new UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa, constitute a clear message that the international community does not condone the policy of protecting the Israeli occupation,” Abu Rudeineh said.

“It is a clear message from the world that Israel must end the occupation immediately and recognize a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” he added.

On Thursday, UNESCO adopted a resolution denying a Jewish connection to the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, which Jews refer to as the “Temple Mount”.

The draft resolution — proposed by Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, Lebanon, Oman and Qatar — was ratified after 24 UNESCO member states voted in favor, six voted against and 26 abstained.

The resolution calls on Israel — as an “occupying power” — to allow for the restoration of the “historic status quo” that prevailed until September 2000, according to which the Jordan-run Organization for Muslim Endowments and Al-Aqsa Affairs exercised exclusive authority over the mosque complex.

It also strongly condemned what it described as “escalating Israeli aggression and illegal measures” against the organization and its personnel and violations of Muslims’ right to worship at the site.

Sheikh Mohamed Hussein, Mufti of Jerusalem, described the UNESCO resolution as “yet more confirmation of the Palestinian and Muslim right to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and East Jerusalem”.

“The Jews have no right to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque or to claim any part of it,” Hussein told Anadolu Agency.

The Al-Aqsa, he asserted, “is an Islamic holy place and will remain so forever”.

-Israeli reaction

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for his part, condemned Thursday’s “absurd” UNESCO resolution.

“To say that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount and Western Wall is like saying Egypt has no connection to the pyramids or China has no connection to the Great Wall of China,” he declared in a statement released late Thursday.

“By adopting this absurd decision, UNESCO has lost what little legitimacy it once had,” he added.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin also slammed the resolution, saying that “no forum or body in the entire world” could deny the connection between Jerusalem and the Jewish people.

“We can understand criticism,” he said, “but no one can change history.”

For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world’s third holiest site. Jews, for their part, refer to the area as the “Temple Mount,” claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.

In September 2000, a visit to Al-Aqsa by controversial Israeli politician Ariel Sharon sparked what later became known as the “Second Intifada,” a popular uprising against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land in which thousands of Palestinians were killed.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem — in which the Al-Aqsa is located — during the 1967 Middle East War. It formally annexed the entire city in 1980, claiming it as its capital in a move never recognized by the international community.

On Friday, Israel announced the suspension of all cooperation with UNESCO, according to Israeli media.

Israel’s Channel 7 reported that Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who also heads the Jewish state’s National Commission for UNESCO, had suspended all activities with the organization.

“The commission will cease all participation [with UNESCO]. There will be no more meetings with UNESCO representatives or participation in international conferences [organized by UNESCO],” read a statement issued by Bennett’s office.

The statement added: “There will be no professional cooperation between Israel and an organization that backs terror.”