Quarterly Updates for (16 May 2017 — 15 Aug 2017)

The U.S. and Israel mobilized against 2 Palestinian-backed measures at the annual meeting of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Comm., which took place in Kraków, Poland, on 7/2–12. Despite their efforts, the comm. passed (7/4), by 10–3, with 8 countries abstaining, a resolution retaining the Old City of Jerusalem on the list of World Heritage Sites that are in danger and condemning “the failure of the Israeli occupying authorities to cease the persistent excavations, tunneling, works, projects and other illegal practices in East Jerusalem, particularly in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, which are illegal under international law.” Israeli officials roundly denounced the resolution, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called (7/4) it “another bizarre and irrelevant decision by UNESCO.”

A few days later, the World Heritage Comm. voted on a much more contentious measure. Earlier in 2017, Palestinian diplomats formally requested (1/30) that the Old City of Hebron be placed on the “List of World Heritage in Danger.” Registering a site on the list allows the comm. to provide special support from the World Heritage Fund, calls the world’s attention to a precarious situation, and triggers annual UNESCO visits to assess any changes. Due to the high number of Israeli violations at the site, the Palestinians requested (3/9) that their 1/30 application be fast-tracked and considered in 7/2017. In the lead-up to the comm. meeting, U.S. amb. to the UN Haley argued (6/30) that placing Hebron on the list would risk undermining the seriousness that such an assessment should have. “The Tomb of the Patriarchs, which is sacred to 3 faiths, is under no immediate threat,” she said. The Israelis, for their part, denied UNESCO’s request to send a delegation to Hebron to study the situation and secured enough support from the comm. to allow the vote to proceed by secret ballot.

Ultimately, 12 countries voted (7/7) in favor of the measure and only 3 opposed it (6 abstained). “Today, Palestine and the world, through UNESCO, celebrate Hebron as part of world heritage, a value that transcends geography, religion, politics, and ideology,” the PA’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced (7/7). Israeli PM Netanyahu called (7/7) it “another delusional UNESCO decision,” announced a $1 m. cut to Israel’s annual support for the UN, redirecting the money to fund a Jewish heritage museum in Kiryat Arba, a settlement nr. Hebron, and other projects around the city. The World Heritage Comm. vote brought to $9 m. since 12/2016 the sum total of retaliatory cuts to Israel’s support for the UN (see JPS 46 [3, 4]).