U.N. agency links He­bron, Pales­tini­ans

Her­itage-site la­bel in­fu­ri­ates Is­raelis

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - IAN DEITCH AND MONIKA SCISLOWSKA In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Edith M. Lederer of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

JERUSALEM — The United Na­tions cul­tural agency on Fri­day de­clared the old city in the West Bank town of He­bron as a Pales­tinian world her­itage site, a de­ci­sion that an­gered Is­raeli of­fi­cials who say the move negated the deep Jewish ties to the bi­b­li­cal town and its an­cient shrine.

The move was the lat­est chap­ter in Is­rael’s con­tentious re­la­tion­ship with UNESCO, an agency it ac­cuses of be­ing an anti-Is­raeli tool that makes de­ci­sions out of po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions.

While the Pales­tini­ans wel­comed the ac­tion, Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu called it “an­other delu­sional de­ci­sion by UNESCO.”

Both Jews and Mus­lims re­vere the same site in He­bron as the tra­di­tional burial place of the bi­b­li­cal pa­tri­archs and ma­tri­archs — Jews call it the Tomb of the Pa­tri­archs, while for Mus­lims it is the Ibrahimi Mosque.

The 12-3 vote, with six ab­sten­tions, came on a se­cret bal­lot at an an­nual UNESCO World Her­itage Com­mit­tee meet­ing in Krakow, Poland. The pro­posal came from the Pales­tinian side. Is­rael con­tended that its his­toric links to He­bron were ig­nored and its am­bas­sador to UNESCO left the ses­sion.

UNESCO spokesman Lu­cia Igle­sias con­firmed that He­bron’s old city was put on the agency’s World Her­itage list and on the list of sites in dan­ger. She would not elab­o­rate, say­ing the ex­act word­ing would be de­cided later.

The de­ci­sion obliges the World Her­itage com­mit­tee to re­view its sta­tus an­nu­ally.

“This is a his­tor­i­cal de­vel­op­ment be­cause it stressed that He­bron and the Ibrahimi Mosque his­tor­i­cally be­long to the Pales­tinian peo­ple,” said Pales­tinian Min­is­ter of Tourism Rula Maayah.

Is­rael’s Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Tzipi Ho­tovely said UNESCO’s “au­to­matic Arab ma­jor­ity suc­ceeded in pass­ing the pro­posed res­o­lu­tion that at­tempts to ap­pro­pri­ate the na­tional sym­bols of the Jewish peo­ple.”

She added: “This is a badge of shame for UNESCO, who time af­ter time chooses to stand on the side of lies.”

Ne­tanyahu ex­pressed out­rage that UNESCO de­ter­mined the Tomb of the Pa­tri­archs in He­bron “is a Pales­tinian site, mean­ing not Jewish, and that the site is in dan­ger.”

“Not a Jewish site?!” he asked sar­cas­ti­cally. “Who is buried there? Abra­ham, Isaac, Ja­cob, Sarah, Re­becca and Leah — our pa­tri­archs and ma­tri­archs!”

Ne­tanyahu pointed to ex­trem­ists blow­ing up re­li­gious sites in the Mid­dle East and said, “It is only in those places where Is­rael is, such as He­bron, that free­dom of re­li­gion for all is en­sured.”

Nikki Ha­ley, the U.S. am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, said the vote “does no one any good and causes much harm.”

“It rep­re­sents an af­front to his­tory. It un­der­mines the trust that is needed for the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian peace process to be suc­cess­ful. And it fur­ther dis­cred­its an al­ready highly ques­tion­able U.N. agency,” she said in a state­ment.

She had sent a let­ter to two se­nior U.N. of­fi­cials be­fore the vote, urg­ing them to with­hold the des­ig­na­tion from UNESCO, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Mis­sion to the U.N.

He­bron is part of the West Bank, a ter­ri­tory cap­tured by Is­rael in the 1967 Mideast war. The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity con­sid­ers it to be oc­cu­pied.

Pales­tini­ans claim the West Bank is an in­te­gral part of a fu­ture in­de­pen­dent state, a po­si­tion that is widely backed in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Is­rael says the ter­ri­tory’s fate, along with other core is­sues like se­cu­rity, should be re­solved in ne­go­ti­a­tions.

In the mean­time, Is­rael has built dozens of set­tle­ments in the West Bank hous­ing about 400,000 Is­raelis. The Pales­tini­ans — and most of the world — con­sider th­ese to be il­le­gal ob­sta­cles to peace. Is­rael says the fu­ture of the set­tle­ments also must be de­cided through talks.

He­bron is es­pe­cially con­tentious. Sev­eral hun­dred ul­tra­na­tion­al­ist set­tlers live in heav­ily guarded en­claves in the city amid about 170,000 Pales­tini­ans. There is fre­quent fric­tion be­tween the two pop­u­la­tions.

Many viewed Fri­day’s UNESCO de­ci­sion as the lat­est ex­am­ple of an in­grained anti-Is­rael bias at the U.N. and its in­sti­tu­tions, where Is­rael and its al­lies are out­num­bered by Arab coun­tries and their sup­port­ers.

Al­though their rocky re­la­tion­ship goes back decades, re­cent res­o­lu­tions by UNESCO also drew out­rage in Is­rael for di­min­ish­ing the Jewish ties to Jerusalem.

In Septem­ber, Is­rael sus­pended co­op­er­a­tion with UNESCO af­ter it adopted a res­o­lu­tion that Is­rael says de­nies the deep his­toric Jewish con­nec­tion to holy sites in Jerusalem.

Is­raeli Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Naf­tali Ben­nett, who heads Is­rael’s na­tional UNESCO com­mit­tee, said af­ter Fri­day’s vote that “Is­rael will not re­sume its co­op­er­a­tion with UNESCO so long as it re­mains a po­lit­i­cal tool, rather than pro­fes­sional or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

AP/BERNAT ARMANGUE

Is­raeli bor­der po­lice stand guard on the site known to Jews as the Tomb of the Pa­tri­archs in the West Bank city of He­bron in 2013.

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