Opinion

The Palestinians’ Concerted, Calculated Play to Define an Exclusively Muslim Jerusalem

The Palestinians’ unilateral UN schemes diminish Jewish and Christian ties to the holy city. American engagement at UNESCO has failed to counter its pervasive anti-Israel, anti-Western agenda.

Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray overnight on July 2, 2016 outside the Dome of the Rock in the Al-Aqsa mosques compound in Jerusalem's Old City on the occasion of Laylat al-Qadr.
Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray overnight on July 2, 2016 outside the Dome of the Rock in the Al-Aqsa mosques compound in Jerusalem's Old City on the occasion of Laylat al-Qadr. Ahmad Gharabli, AFP

Last week, the Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization approved a divisive and irresponsible measure that denies Jerusalem’s historical record and diminishes Jewish and Christian ties to the holy city. 

The resolution’s intent is unmistakable and it’s no coincidence that the language in this measure is similar to that of a decision taken by UNESCO’s governing body this past April; in fact, it is deliberate.

UNESCO is just one piece of the overarching strategy of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership to attempt to delegitimize the democratic Jewish State of Israel, while simultaneously moving forward at the United Nations with a scheme to achieve statehood recognition unilaterally. 

And the linchpin to that strategy is reframing the significance of Jerusalem for Israelis and Palestinians, while also diminishing the religious significance of the holy city to over a billion Christians globally. By trying to whitewash the importance of Jerusalem to the Jewish and Christian communities and instead highlighting the city’s relevance solely to Islam, the Palestinians are making a concerted and calculated play at defining Jerusalem as being exclusively Muslim. 

In doing so, the Palestinians are seeking to build a record at UNESCO and throughout the UN system that Jerusalem is of little consequence to Israel and thus must become the capital of any future Islamic Palestinian state. This approach is both flawed and dangerous; a peaceful resolution and the future of Jerusalem cannot be dictated, it must be mutually agreed upon by both the Palestinians and Israelis.

Lost in the discussions over how this one-sided measure diminishes the significance of Jerusalem to Jews and Christians are the paragraphs of the document that are egregious, intentionally inflammatory and rife with false allegations against Israel. Nowhere in this document will you see any culpability for the Palestinian Authority’s incitement to violence and terror that has gripped Jerusalem over the past year. 

The duplicitous nature of this measure is apparent: UNESCO and the UN writ large wish to recognize the Palestinians as a legitimate and self-governing state, but when it comes to accountability, it absolves their leaders of any responsibility for the actions of their people. That is why it is incumbent upon the United States and other responsible nations to vehemently oppose measures like this and stand in support of Israel to defeat efforts aimed at delegitimizing the Jewish state’s right to exist.

That UNESCO is the pillar of this strategy should come as no surprise, since it was UNESCO that first voted to admit and recognize the nonexistent state of Palestine. That this scheme has been allowed to continue, however, is detrimental to the prospects for peace and underscores the need for drastic reform at this UN agency. 

When the agency admitted the Palestine Liberation Organization as a member state, it triggered longstanding U.S. law that dictated that America withhold its dues from UNESCO. There are those who will argue that the United States must resume its dues and be a member in good standing in order to wield its influence and pursue our interests. This argument is backwards and has been proven time and again to be false.

The U.S. allegedly did everything in its power to prevent UNESCO from admitting the Palestinians, to no avail. That was when the United States was a full, dues-paying member yielding maximum influence and yet we still failed to protect our interests and our allies. The United States continues to be a member of the Executive Board, but as this week’s vote and the vote this past April demonstrated, our engagement at UNESCO has failed to demonstrate an ability to counter this anti-Israel, anti-Western agenda that runs counter to our principles. 

Instead of continually promising to restore funding to UNESCO, the United States should be demanding that much needed reforms be implemented before even considering disbursing any funds. Resuming our contributions to UNESCO without first demanding reforms would only legitimize this body and perpetuate this dangerous narrative.

And this gets to the heart of the real problem, because what we are witnessing at UNESCO is a symptom of a much greater disease that is the endemic and systemic anti-Israel bias throughout the UN system. The Palestinian approach at the UN has been to do everything to avoid having to come to direct negotiations with Israel. Instead, it has used the specialized agencies such as the Human Rights Council, UNESCO, UNRWA and others to attempt to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state in the international community. 

When the body that is meant to promote and protect human rights is used as a bully pulpit to attack the only democracy in the Middle East and as a tool to shield the world’s worst human rights abusers, it is obviously flawed. When the agency tasked with preserving history and culture is erasing it, the system is obviously broken. The entire foundation upon which the UN has been built has been torn asunder and what remains in its place is a shell of a body that is in dire need of top-to-bottom reform.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representative from Florida, is Chairman Emeritus of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, current Chairman of its Middle East and North Africa subcommittee and is a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.