Failed Coup in Turkey Leads to Delay of UNESCO Temple Mount Vote in Istanbul

The resolution, proposed by Jordan and the Palestinians, stated that the site was holy to Muslims alone. But when it was decided to cut the gathering short, Israel's stance to defer the vote was accepted.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Palestinians wait for Friday prayers to begin on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, October 23, 2015.
Palestinians wait for Friday prayers to begin on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, October 23, 2015.Credit: Reuters
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

A vote on an anti-Israeli resolution regarding Jerusalem’s Temple Mount that was slated for this week at a conference in Istanbul of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO has been deferred due to the failed coup in Turkey.

Carmel Shama-Hacohen, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO – the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – explained that the committee meeting has been cut short due to the attempted coup and it was decided to accept the Israeli stance that the vote on the resolution should be postponed until October.

The World Heritage Committee has been meeting in Istanbul since last week. One of the items on the agenda was to be a resolution proposed by Jordan and the Palestinians regarding Jerusalem. The draft resolution included a reference to the Temple Mount, which was presented as a holy site to Muslims alone, without noting its religious significance to Jews.

A similar resolution was passed at the last UNESCO conference in April and the Foreign Ministry launched a diplomatic effort to head off the current resolution. Despite the considerable effort, it had appeared over the weekend that it would not be possible to prevent a vote, and that the anti-Israel text would attract wide support, including that of European Union members represented on the committee.

Representatives attend a session of UNESCO World Heritage Committee on July 11, 2016 in Istanbul. Credit: Ozan Kose, AFP

The gathering Istanbul had initially been due to conclude on Wednesday of this week and Israel had expected that the vote would take place by then. But as a result of the coup attempt, the UNESCO secretariat decided to cut the conference short and wrap up the meeting on Sunday evening. Therefore, it was necessary to decide which resolutions on the agenda would be voted on at the current meeting and what would be deferred to the organization’s next gathering.

On Saturday evening, Shama-Hacohen said after it became clear that the meeting schedule would be shortened, the Israeli delegation worked to have the Jerusalem resolution removed from the agenda and postponed instead to the committee’s next meeting in Paris in October.

At a meeting on Sunday morning of the conference’s administrative committee, which is headed by a Turkish representative, the Lebanese ambassador demanded that the subject of Jerusalem remain on the agenda in Istanbul. His suggestion was supported by the Palestinian and Peruvian ambassadors, who pressed that the vote will be held on Sunday. But following Israel’s request, the ambassadors from Portugal, Poland and Finland asked that the agenda item and the vote be deferred.

The position of the three European Union countries in essence turned the tide, Shama-Hacohen said, resulting in the postponement of the Jerusalem issue. “It’s rare for our position to win majority support vis-à-vis the position of the Palestinians and the Arab states,” he said. “It was the result of a combination of hard, coordinated work by all of those involved and of course also luck.”

The Israeli envoy said that the change in circumstances due to the coup led to a reassessment of the situation in which it an opportunity was offered to defer the vote. “We waited for the ambassadors and representatives early in the morning when the breakfast room opened at 7 A.M.” he recounted. “With a little Israeli chutzpah, while they were eating, we saw to it to explain and convince them that an opportunity had been created to free everyone from the unpleasantness of voting on the problematic and extreme resolution that the Palestinians were trying to advance.”

The Palestinians and Arab countries are expected to take advantage of the coming months until October to continue to promote the Jerusalem resolution and to enlist the support that they require. Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said that Israel will prepare to head off the process in October as well.

“I feel it necessary to thank the Turks for their warm hospitality and particularly for the fair, positive and businesslike approach that greatly assisted in achieving the final result,” Shama-Hacohen said. And in an apparent reference to the recent reconciliation agreement that Israel and Turkey reached to restore normal relations, he added. “I had the benefit of an open door and an attentive ear from both the Turkish ambassador and the chairman of the heritage committee, which is also Turkey, which proves that it is always good to reconcile when possible.”

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