Israel will allow UNESCO inspectors to tour Jerusalem’s Old City next month to inspect rehabilitation work being performed there, in return for which the UN body removed five anti-Israel resolutions from the agenda of its executive board.
The diplomatic deal was announced Tuesday by Nimrod Barkan, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), at the organization’s executive board meeting. According to senior Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem, the deal is the result of an Israeli diplomatic initiative and three months of quiet diplomacy.
In October, Israel managed to postpone a vote on the five resolutions at the last minute when the Russian ambassador to UNESCO agreed to raise a compromise resolution, which would delay debate on the anti-Israel motions for six months. One of the resolutions called for sending a special envoy to inspect the activities of the Israeli government in East Jerusalem, particularly on the Temple Mount.
In December, however, Barkan explained to senior officials in the ministry’s International Organizations Department that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to prevent the sharp denunciation of Israel at this month’s executive board meeting without some kind of diplomatic move. As a result, the ministry launched talks in January with the representatives of various countries at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. During the talks, the Israelis formulated the following compromise:
A. Israel will allow a UNESCO technical mission to visit the Old City on May 19 to inspect and examine a series of renovation and rehabilitation projects. However, the delegation would not visit the Temple Mount and would not deal with the ramp leading up from the Western Wall plaza to the Mughrabi Gate entrance to the Temple Mount.
B. Israel would agree to participate in a technical meeting on the Mughrabi ramp with Jordanian, Palestinian and World Heritage Center experts, to be held in May.
C. In return, the Palestinians must agree to delay for six months the submission of the five anti-Israel resolutions that were meant to be debated and voted on at this week’s UNESCO executive board meeting. The resolutions dealt with the Temple Mount, the Old City, Bethlehem and Hebron, the state of education in Gaza and the Mughrabi ramp.
D. Similarly, the Palestinians must postpone for a year all the anti-Israel resolutions that were expected to be raised at UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee meeting in June.
A senior Foreign Ministry official said that over the past 10 days there had been intensive diplomatic discussions about Israel’s proposal at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters. The Palestinian ambassador tried to get the board to accept only some of the suggestions and postpone debate on only two of the anti-Israel resolutions.
The Americans reminded the Palestinians that they had already committed themselves to stopping all unilateral moves against Israel in the United Nations until the end of May, and thus expected them to agree to delay the UNESCO resolutions. In the end, the Palestinians yielded and approved the Israeli proposal.