13:58 GMT +308 December 2019
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    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday, May 3, 2017.

    Israeli Leadership Shows Teeth Over Historic UNESCO Vote on Jerusalem

    © AP Photo / Menahem Kahana
    Middle East
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    Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has derided what he called an "absurd" UNESCO resolution. He added that it denies "the Jews' historical connection with Jerusalem by presenting it as an occupying power."

    The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization passed a resolution on Tuesday, May 2, at the UN's Paris headquarters, that criticized Israel's actions in occupied East Jerusalem. It explicitly denounced actions taken by "Israel, the occupying power… to alter the character and status of the holy city of Jerusalem."

    The resolution was particularly damning of Israel's annexation of Jerusalem, following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, which it called "null and void" and something that "must be rescinded forthwith." Before the war, Israel maintained an occupation of the city's East, claiming the entirety of the city as its undivided capital. The proclamation has never been granted recognition by the international community.

    The resolution was submitted by Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Oman, Qatar and Sudan. It calls upon Israel as the "occupying power," to stop "persistent excavations, tunneling, works and projects in East Jerusalem," which is claimed by Palestinians as their capital.

    There are concerns that the vote will have little impact upon Israel's conduct in East Jerusalem and the occupied territories more generally. Some however, are more resolute.

    "Despite intimidation, coercion and bribery by Israel and the USA to kill it, the resolution was passed and Israel is livid. Next come the accusations of bias and denial. Palestine and Jerusalem is for the Palestinians and not the modern day colonizers," Palestinian author and journalist Jafar Ramini told Sputnik.

    Despite the resolution passing with 22 votes to zero, and 23 abstentions, Netanyahu dismissed it, saying that:

    "There is no other people in the world for whom Jerusalem is as holy and important as it is for the Jewish people."

    He subsequently accused UNESCO of "denying that simple truth."

    The United States, Germany, Italy and seven other board members voted against it.

    The Prime Minister's condemnation was joined by chorus of criticism from other senior government officials. The Israeli Foreign Ministry excoriated the vote as the "unnecessary politicization of UNESCO."

    Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the vote "amounts to denying Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem and presents our country as an occupying state."

    The Minister of Culture and Sport, Miri Regev, also ventilated her consternation at the vote by saying that there is no need "for observers from the likes of the UN" to be in Jerusalem. Regev is expected to present a demand to the Israeli parliament on Wednesday, May 3, that the UNESCO offices in Jerusalem are shut down.

    In stark contrast, the reaction by the Palestinian side was one of jubilation. The Foreign Ministry of Palestine lauded it is "a victory for international law." Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Malki celebrated the result of the vote, saying that the world had "chosen to stand on the side of what is right in the face of [Israel's] injustice, occupation and its illegitimate policies."

    "We will defend our heritage and culture, our past and future," Riyad Malki added.

    Netanyahu did however, try to rain on the Palestinian parade by remarking that "the number of countries that supported this absurd proposal continues to decline."

    "A year ago 32 states supported it. Six months ago this figure had dropped to 26 and this time there are only 22," Netanyahu said.

    The Palestinians argue that East Jerusalem must be the capital of any future Palestinian state, while Israel insists that Jerusalem in its totality is its undivided capital.

    Palestine was admitted as a member state of UNESCO in 2011, a move that culminated in the US suspending its funding to the body.

    According to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, there are more than half-a-million Israeli settlers who live in illegal Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.


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