Palestinian leaders have rejected Israeli criticism over a UNESCO draft resolution that condemned Israel’s policies around Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, while supposedly denying Jewish ties to the holy site in occupied East Jerusalem.
Israel suspended cooperation with UNESCO on Friday, a day after the UN cultural body criticised it for restricting Muslim access to the site, and for aggression by Israeli police and soldiers. UNESCO also recognised Israel as the occupying power.
In a statement sent to Al Jazeera, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it welcomed the adoption of the resolution that reflected “the majority of member states commitment to confront [the Israeli] impunity and uphold the principles upon which the UNESCO was founded”.
The statement added: “Rather than spending millions to spin the illegal colonisation into normalcy and distort reality, Israel, the occupying power, must understand that the only way to be treated like a normal state is if it starts acting like one by ending its occupation of Palestine and seizing its irresponsible and illegal actions in the occupied land of the state of Palestine, especially East Jerusalem.”
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki also criticised Irina Bokova, UNESCO director-general, after she distanced herself from Thursday’s vote.
“The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city,” she said in a statement.
Jerusalem’s Old City was designated a World Heritage site because of its “universal value … which is an appeal for dialogue, not confrontation”, Bokova said.
In response, Maliki said Bokova had “outstepped the scope of her mandate” and described her declaration as “completely unacceptable”.
“The Palestinian government expects Ms Bokova to focus her efforts on implementing the will of member states and preserving Jerusalem from the Israeli systematic colonisation and assault on its Palestinian character,” said Maliki.
Israel and the US denounced the UNESCO resolution, which was submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan – and passed with 24 votes in favour, six against, and 26 abstentions.
Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, the UK and the US voted against the resolution, while China, Russia, Mexico, South Africa and Pakistan among others voted in favour.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said in a statement on Thursday that UNESCO has lost its legitimacy by adopting this resolution.
“The theatre of the absurd at UNESCO continues, and today the organisation adopted another delusional decision which says that the people of Israel have no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall,” Netanyahu said.
Palestinian critics argue that Israel uses the Jewish connection to Jerusalem as a cover for its political policies that have displaced Palestinians from their homes.
“We commend the vote at the UNESCO that denied any historic claims between Jews and the Al-Aqsa Mosque and its Western Wall,” Izzat al-Risheq, spokesman for Hamas, said in a statement sent to Al Jazeera.
“We also appreciate all the countries that have sponsored and voted in favour of this resolution.”
Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is the third-holiest site in Islam. It is located in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed following its invasion in 1967 – in a move never recognised by the international community – as part of its subsequent military occupation of the West Bank.
Jewish settlers and Zionist organisations have called for complete Jewish control over the mosque compound.
Jewish groups refer to the site as the “Temple Mount” and their increased incursions into the mosque compound have continuously led to Palestinian protests across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli military and armed settler incursions have resulted in Palestinian deaths and injuries in recent years in particular. Muslim access to the religious site has also been tremendously limited by the army.