Israel Furious With Jordan Over Condemnation of Jerusalem's Old City Renovation

Ambassador Barkan says Israel is upset over the Jordanian about-face concerning the Mughrabi renovations near the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

ATHENS - Israel is furious with Jordan, Israel's ambassador to UNESCO said yesterday.

Nimrod Barkan said Israel is shocked that Amman had led a successful effort within the international body to condemn Israel over the renovations planned for the Mughrabi Gate Bridge - after signing an agreement with Israel to allow the work to go ahead.

kotel - Daniel Bar-On - June 28 2011
Daniel Bar-On

"The Jordanians lied in a way that cannot be believed, both to us and to the Americans," Barkan said in a phone call from Paris. "They lied all along the way. They wanted to get it both ways."

The plans for razing and rebuilding the old Mughrabi Gate bridge, which leads from the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem to the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Temple Mount, have been public for a while and are intended to begin next week - and Israel and Jordan had reached a clear agreement about the work, Barkan said.

But despite the understanding, Israel - and the U.S. - were stunned last week to learn that Jordan, along with Egypt, Iraq, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Cambodia and Mali had filed a complaint against Israel in UNESCO's World Heritage Committee over the planned renovations.

"The most astonishing thing is they don't even mention the agreement between Israel and Jordan!" said Barkan, who added that Jordanian and Palestinian representatives also handed out pamphlets to members of the committee saying that Israel was also planning to carry out work at the Damascus Gate.

Israel delayed the Jordan-led petition last Wednesday with the support of 11 committee members, but it was adopted without a vote by the 21-member body on Monday.

Amman stressed that it was "concerned over a decision by the Jerusalem Planning and Construction Committee concerning the Mughrabi Gate," and demanded UNESCO order Israel to stop the archaeological excavations in the Old City.

The petition states that the World Heritage Committee "regrets the persistence of the Israeli archaeological excavations and works in the Old City of Jerusalem and on both sides of its walls, and the failure of Israel to provide the World Heritage Center with adequate and comprehensive information about its archaeological activities thereon, and asks the Israeli authorities to cease such excavations and works in conformity with the UNESCO conventions for the protection of cultural heritage."

It goes on to "reaffirm ... that no measures, unilateral or otherwise, should be taken, including those which may affect the authenticity and integrity of the site," and also "acknowledges receipt of the Jordanian design for the restoration and preservation of the Mughrabi Ascent ... and thanks Jordan for its cooperation."

Although the petition was adopted by the committee, and no committee member objected to its passage, four countries - Australia, Switzerland, Mexico and Brazil - verbally expressed their reservations, meaning it was not considered to have passed with complete consensus.

Why those countries with reservations did not vote against it seems to have to do with their "concern" with their own relations with the Arab countries in the committee, Barkan said.

Barkan said that it is not clear what will happen with this resolution in practice, but that he believed UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova would not do anything with it. Earlier this year, she said she would not act on decisions that were not passed by consensus.

Meanwhile, Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mahmoud Al Kayed welcomed the developments and the "unified position of the Arab group" in the petition's adoption, but told the Jordanian news service Petra that he regretted the failure to reach a consensus with some concerned parties due "to the Israeli intransigence on items of the resolution related to unilateral Israeli measures on the ground and at the UNESCO."