Nikki Haley Asks UN, UNESCO Chiefs: Oppose Palestinian Move on Hebron, Tomb of Patriarchs

Palestinians seek to have UNESCO declare sites as Palestinian heritage sites, claiming that they are endangered by the Israeli occupation

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An ultra-Orthodox Jew walks past the Tomb of the Patriarchs, sacred to Jews and Muslims, in Hebron, Feb. 24, 2010.
An ultra-Orthodox Jew walks past the Tomb of the Patriarchs, sacred to Jews and Muslims, in Hebron, Feb. 24, 2010.Credit: Reuters / Haaretz Archive

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley sent a letter to two senior UN officials on Friday, asking them to oppose a Palestinian effort to get UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to adopt a resolution declaring Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs Palestinian heritage sites.

Haley’s letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova comes on top of diplomatic protests lodged by U.S. embassies in recent weeks with all 21 countries on the World Heritage Committee.

The committee began its discussions in Krakow on Sunday. The vote on the Palestinian resolution is expected to take place on Friday.

In their resolution, the Palestinians claim that the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Old City of Hebron are endangered by the Israeli occupation. Therefore, they have asked the committee to use a fast-track emergency procedure to declare these areas world heritage sites belonging to the Palestinians.

To pass, the resolution needs the support of two-thirds of the committee members who cast votes. Israel and the U.S. have thus been waging a diplomatic campaign to deny the Palestinians the necessary votes.

Inter alia, Israel is demanding a secret ballot, as this would allow more countries to vote against or abstain on the resolution.

“I write to express the strong opinion of the United States that the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, West Bank, not be added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Danger,” Haley wrote. “The Tomb of the Patriarchs, which is sacred to three faiths, is under no immediate threat. 

Such a designation risks undermining the seriousness such an assessment by UNESCO should have. Many precious sites – from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Libya to Iraq to Syria – are under real and imminent threat of destruction today. They urgently demand UNESCO’s full and immediate attention, which should not be wasted on this sort of symbolic action.”

Moreover, she wrote, if the Palestinian resolution passes, it might undermine the Trump Administration’s efforts to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. 

“I hope you will join the United States in opposing this measure,” the letter concluded.

Israeli Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama Hacohen thanked Haley for the letter.

“The letter speaks for itself about the absurdity of persecuting the Jewish state on every international front, and especially at UNESCO,” he said.

“Unfortunately, a new American ambassador to UNESCO hasn’t yet been appointed, and if we only had an ambassador here at our side who recalled Nikki Haley’s determination and courage, the conditions of battle would be completely different. Haley’s statements ought to be self-evident and ought to be said by all the countries of the free world, but most prefer to remain silent and roll their eyes.”