Palestinian Envoy: UNESCO Vote Was About 'Occupation,' Not Temple Mount

Elias Sanbar claims contentious resolution omitted any references to the Jewish holy site because the Geneva Conventions prohibit the use of an occupier's term.

Palestinian deputy ambassador to UNESCO Mounir Anastas, speaks at the organization's headquarters in Paris on October 17, 2016.
Francois Mori/AP

PARIS - A Palestinian representative to UNESCO defended on Tuesday the omission of any reference to Jewish claims to the Temple Mount in a contentious resolution passed last week about Jerusalem.

Mounir Anastas told reporters in Paris, where UNESCO is headquartered, that the vote was "about occupation."

Israel has protested the resolution's failure to include any reference to the site where al-Aqsa Mosque stands as revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, or the site where two ancient temples once stood.

Elias Sanbar, a second Palestinian representative to the organization, said that Jordan had "wanted" to include the Jewish reference.

Sanbar asserted that this was "impossible." He claimed that the Geneva Conventions required referring to the site by its pre-occupation name, or the period before Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Sanbar also suggested, however, that it may have been possible to revise the resolution to include a Jewish reference to the site. "This text is not holy, it can be changed," he said.

Anastas accused reporters of going around in circles about the issue. "You're just asking the same question over and over again,” he said.  "This resolution is about occupation not about a name.”

UNESCO officials, who have already issued clarifications to Israel about the resolution, said they would have preferred a more consensual process.

“UNESCO has always worked by consensus, but not this time. Twenty-four member states voted in favor of the resolution, 26 abstained 6 voted against it,”  UNESCO media chief George Papagiannis said.

Israel's ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama Hacohen called Palestinian diplomacy over the resolution "brutal."

“This was not a resolution aiming to protect Jerusalem, it was a political initiative meant to harm Israel’s sovereignty and to rewrite history” Hacohen said. “It’s not legitimate morally or historically.”

“No other country has been treated this way in UNESCO," Hacohen added.

Hacohen said was hopeful, though, that Israel would someday reverse the decision the same as a 1975 United Nations resolution condemning Zionism as racism was eventually revoked.