UNESCO, the U.N. cultural agency, condemned Israel for what it said are attempts to alter the status quo at the Temple Mount.
While the resolution approved Wednesday morning in Paris by the executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization dropped plans to label the Temple Mount a Muslim site, the organization recognized Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron as Muslim sites that are part of a Palestinian state. Both sites are holy to Jews and listed in the Bible as the burial places of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs.
The vote was 26-6 in favor of the resolution, with 25 abstentions.
Before the vote, the six Arab countries that submitted the proposal on behalf of the Palestinians — Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates — removed from the proposal a statement declaring the Western Wall in Jerusalem part of the Al-Aqsa mosque complex and naming it part of the Muslim religious site. It also removed references to Jerusalem as “the occupied capital of Palestine” in order to garner support for the proposal.
The final text of the resolution included condemnation of the “aggression and illegal measures taken against the freedom of worship and access of Muslims to Al-Aqsa Mosque and Israel’s attempts to break the status quo since 1967.”
Israeli officials and American Jewish groups protested the resolution as a farce and outright lie.
On Tuesday, UNESCO head Irina Bokova said in a statement that she “deplores” the proposal and called on the board to “take decisions that do not further inflame tensions on the ground and that encourage respect for the sanctity of the Holy Sites.” She postponed the vote on the proposal from Tuesday to Wednesday.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center released a statement condemning UNESCO for “abetting the big lie spread by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas denying the 3,500 year bond between the Jewish People and the Holy Land, but contribute to reframing the Arab-Israeli conflict into an ideological religious conflict.”
StandWithUs, a pro-Israel group based in Los Angeles, said UNESCO's reclassification “will only serve to distance any possibility of peace and exascerbate existing tensions on the ground.”