- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2016

UNESCO, the U.N. body charged with protecting humanity’s cultural treasures, approved a draft resolution Thursday calling Israel an “occupying power” in its own capital of Jerusalem, ignoring deep Jewish ties to the Temple Mount and instead accusing Israeli settlers of provoking Muslims through “aggressions.”

The resolution shunned the term “Temple Mount” in favor of its Palestinian name and demanded that Israel rescind its control over access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which stands on the Temple Mount but is also one of the holiest sites in Islam.

The U.S. and some European nations fought the resolution but were easily outmuscled by Russia, China and Middle Eastern and developing nations. Opponents were also hindered by two dozen countries that refused to vote at all, delivering victory to Israel’s critics in committee. A final vote by the UNESCO executive committee is slated for later this month.

“One-sided anti-Israel resolutions have been a recurring challenge at UNESCO in recent years,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in Washington, decrying the latest version, which Israeli newspapers reported passed by a 24-6 vote.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision “absurd,” while members of the U.S. Congress said the resolution embarrassed the international body, whose formal name is the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

“To declare that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China or that Egypt has no connection to the Pyramids,” Mr. Netanyahu told the Reuters news agency.

“This insanity shows that Israel’s adversaries are willing to go to any lengths to denigrate our ally,” added Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican. “Not only does the U.N. pretend that there is moral equivalency between Israeli citizens and Palestinian terrorists, UNESCO goes out of its way to insult Israel.”

Donald Trump, the GOP presidential nominee, said he’ll insist on Jerusalem getting recognition as Israel’s capital by moving the U.S. embassy there. And he said the Obama administration hasn’t done enough to defend the city’s place in Jewish history.

“In a Trump Administration, Israel will have a true, loyal and lasting friend in the United States of America,” Mr. Trump said in a statement.

Submitted by a handful of Middle Eastern nations, the draft resolution affirms the Old City of Jerusalem’s place in “the three monotheistic religions” of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But the resolution then details a long list of grievances, accusing Israel of hindering Muslim worshippers’ access to their holy sites and looking the other way as Israelis provoke Palestinians in both Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Palestinian officials took the vote as a clear signal of international support to their claims to the disputed site.

“This is an important message to Israel that it must end its occupation and recognize the Palestinian state and Jerusalem as its capital with its sacred Muslim and Christian sites,” Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement.

UNESCO had previously voted to send monitors to Jerusalem to track conflicts over access, but Israel has thwarted the monitors. The new draft resolution demands that UNESCO insist on full cooperation from Israel.

Protecting key sites

UNESCO’s chief job is to list “World Heritage Sites” — magnificent and historically significant locations that showcase the beauty of the natural world, or the heights of human achievements.

In the U.S., more than 20 World Heritage sites include the Grand Canyon and Native American ruins, as well as Monticello and the University of Virginia, the architectural marvels designed by Thomas Jefferson.

Jerusalem was listed in 1981, at the behest of Jordan. But the city has recently become the flash point for a number of fights at the heritage organization. Arab members several years ago forced a delay in a U.S.-sponsored exhibit on 3,500 years of Jewish history connected to the city, and more recently have demanded votes on punitive resolutions.

The objecting nations say Israel is pursuing its own research projects but stymieing Palestinian restoration projects.

Whatever the situation in Jerusalem, it is not as disastrous as nearby Syria, which counts six UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Each of those has suffered damage in the ongoing civil war, with Islamic State terrorists last year destroying some of the iconic ruins at Palmyra, a Roman-era city.

The U.S. is a member of UNESCO but stopped paying its dues after the cultural organization in 2011 voted to admit Palestine as a member. American law automatically cuts off payments to organizations that designate Palestine as a full-fledged member-state.

President Obama has been trying to change that policy, arguing the U.S. is shirking its international responsibilities, and Mr. Toner, the State Department spokesman, said the U.S. would have had more “influence” to stop anti-Israeli measures if it paid its dues and participated in debates and votes.

But Mr. Toner admitted it wasn’t likely the U.S. could have ever headed off Thursday’s vote, and members of Congress said the episode was more evidence that UNESCO is both biased and feckless.

“The Obama administration must cease its persistent and foolhardy attempts to restore U.S. taxpayer funding to UNESCO, a body which has proven itself repeatedly to be unworthy of U.S. support,” said Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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