Israel postpones UNESCO Jerusalem delegation’s visit at last moment

FM officials: PA broke agreement by manipulating what was planed as a purely professional UN visit and ‘politicized’ it.



Israel on Monday called off a planned visit by a delegation from UNESCO, the United Nation’s cultural organization, to inspect preservation work in Jerusalem’s Old City, saying that the Palestinians had “politicized” the delegation.

UNESCO - Photo  Charles Platiau Reuters

UNESCO – Photo: Charles Platiau/Reuters

“The delegation as a delegation has been postponed,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

“The Palestinians violated all the agreements we had with UNESCO: that this was to be a purely professional, not a political visit,” he said.  The official said the Palestinians asked to introduce a “slew” of political elements into the visit, with PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki characterizing it as a fact-finding commission to investigate Israeli steps in Jerusalem.

The spokesman said that contrary to an agreement brokered in April at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, the PA was now insisting on taking the delegation to the Temple Mount, and meeting with Palestinian political  personalities, not just “engineers, architects and professional people”.

“We have said this was unacceptable” the spokesman said. “Hopefully the delegation is postponed, and not cancelled.”

It was not immediately clear whether some of the delegation participants had already arrived in the country.

The agreement in April that paved way for the delegation to inspect preservation and rehabilitation work in the Old City  had Israel allowing it in exchange for a Palestinian agreement to postpone five anti-Israel resolutions pending before UNESCO. According to Israel, the delegation was not to go to the Temple Mount or deal with the issue of the Mughrabi Bridge, leading from the Western Wall Plaza to the Temple Mount.

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, accepted “Palestine” as a member in 2011, a move that angered Jerusalem and Washington and led the US to cut off its annual contribution to the organization.

UNESCO added the Old City to its list of World Heritage Sites in 1981, and a year later placed it on its list of “endangered” World Heritage Sites. The last monitoring mission took place in 2004, and UNESCO has been requesting a new one for the last three years.

According to a UNESCO statement, the mission’s goals were to “examine the state of conservation of the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls, a World Heritage site.” The mission is made up of experts from UNESCO’s World Heritage Center, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, and the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property. It is to present its report and recommendations before the beginning of the World Heritage Committee’s annual meeting on June 1.

Tower of David, Jerusalem – Photo: IsraelandStuff/PP

The Foreign Ministry was to host the delegation, a ministry official said, since Israel is “the responsible party for maintaining and preserving” the site.

The agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in April to green-light the visit was viewed as a diplomatic achievement, brokered by the US and Russia. The agreement by the Palestinians to shelve their resolution came amid efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to create a better climate conducive to restarting talks, and part of creating that climate included getting the Palestinians to postpone anti-Israel resolutions in international forums.

The five resolutions that the Palestinians temporarily shelved in UNESCO dealt with the Temple Mount, the Mughrabi Bridge leading to the Temple Mount from the Western Wall Plaza, Bethlehem, Hebron and Gaza.

Under the deal, Israel agreed to attend a UNESCO meeting to be held in June in Paris to discuss the Mughrabi Bridge.

The bridge has been the subject of contention since the original earthen ramp there collapsed during a snowstorm in 2004. Repair work on a temporary bridge there in 2007 touched off widespread Muslim rioting in Jordan and Jerusalem, and efforts to build a permanent replacement for the temporary bridge are considered extremely sensitive.


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