UNESCO resolution passes calling to reject Israeli sovereignty over all Jerusalem
Despite the Foreign Ministry's best attempts to thwart a UNESCO proposal to revoke Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, the resolution passed—on Israel's Independence Day—with the support of seven Arab states; PM Netanyahu calls decision 'absurd,' while Pres. Rivlin calls to transfer all embassies to Jerusalem.
The UNESCO resolution calls on Israel, as the "occupying power," to cease "persistent excavations, tunneling, works and projects in east Jerusalem," which the Palestinians claim as the capital of their future state. Israel views the entire city as its capital.
Israeli archaeological excavations and other infrastructure projects in the Old City have long stoked tensions.
The UNESCO resolution did reaffirm "the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions," though it accused Israel of taking actions that have "altered, or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City."
The countries that voted in support of the resolution were: the seven Arab states Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Sudan; Iran, Malaysia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Vietnam, Sweden, Russia, China, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Chad.
Ten countries opposed the resolution: the United States, Ukraine, Italy , Germany, Great Britain, Paraguay, Lithuania, Greece, Togo, and the Netherlands.
The countries that voted to abstain were: France, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Spain, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Kenya, Trinidad and Tobago, Albania, Cameroon, Estonia, the Ivory Coast, Slovenia, Ghana, Mozambique, Uganda, Argentina, India, El Salvador, Japan, South Korea, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.
The countries whose representatives did not vote on the resolution were Nepal, Serbia, and Turkmenistan.
Netanyahu promises: 'We're not going anywhere'
Earlier Tuesday, at the World Bible Quiz, marking the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the expected vote. "We deny UNESCO and uphold our truth, which is the truth. Throughout Jewish history, Jerusalem was the heart of the nation. This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the liberation and unification of Jerusalem and the 120th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress, and therefore we present you with eight questions marking Zion and Jerusalem."
After the decision was announced, Netanyahu responded to it again, this time at a reception for foreign diplomats and military attachés in celebration of Israel's 69th Independence Day, hosted by President Reuven Rivlin and his wife Nehama. Netanyahu shared that over the last couple of days, he conducted many conversations with world leaders, heads of state and foreign ministers, in regard to the "absurd" vote taking place at the UN. He stressed that the number of countries that support anti-Israeli suggestions in UNESCO is gradually shrinking.
"The absurd decisions in UNESCO have to not merely be reduced in the number of their supporters. That's happening, I'm glad to say, went down from 32 to 26, today to 22. There are more countries today that are abstaining or supporting Israel than there are those opposing Israel. But my goal is to have no votes in UNESCO on Israel.
"Last year UNESCO said that the Jewish people have no connection to the Temple Mount. Can you imagine?" said Netanyahu. "Three thousand years ago Solomon built his temple there. This is the same temple that Herod ... that was rebuilt by the Exiles of Babylon coming back here with the Proclamation of Cyrus the Great; it's the same temple that Jesus visited when he overturned the money tables, the money changers' tables—he didn't do this in a monastery in the Himalayas. He did it in the Jewish Temple here. And UNESCO said a year ago that we have no connection to the Temple Mount. This year they didn't say that. That's an improvement in the march of absurdity. They also said that Judaism too has connection to Jerusalem. We're making progress. But there's still a way to go and the way we have to go is in fact to cut out this nonsense.
"One hundred US senators, one hundred, every single one of them, Democrats and Republicans and I guess there are some independents there too, every single one of them wrote to the Secretary General of the United Nations and said, 'Enough!' The theater of the absurd, when it comes to Israel, has to stop.
"So there is a gap still between our expanding, growing bilateral relations and our multilateral diplomacy," added Netanyahu. "It's true the gap is being reduced from year to year, but if I can express a wish to you: I want it eliminated, as I want you to cut your travel time, as the President suggested. Move your embassies to Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel for 3,000 years.
Referring to critics of Israeli policy, Netanyahu said, "There is of course the line among a handful of academics and misguided protestors saying that Israel is isolated. No. It's not. Almost daily, I meet with world leaders. Well, to be precise, about 250 leaders from around the world—we have fewer work days so sometimes we have to meet twice a day—who come to Jerusalem and we meet here. And the number's growing, all the time, year to year. And they all tell a different story.
Last week the Chancellor of Austria said Israel is a role model for the entire world. From African leaders I hear profound thanks for Israeli technology that helps save and improve lives throughout Africa. From Asian leaders, such as the leaders of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan that I met recently, or the leader of Singapore, I hear an earnest desire to deepen economic cooperation. I heard the same in Australia, as I hear it from the representatives of Latin American countries. From American and Western leaders and others I hear gratitude for our intelligence which has helped stop many, many terror attacks in their countries, in your countries.
"And perhaps most remarkably, from Arab leaders I hear an increasing recognition that Israel is not an enemy but an indispensable ally in the common battle against terror and the common effort to secure a different future, a better future for all the peoples of the Middle East.
"How has this happened? What makes Israel a role model for the world? Well, the first thing—and let me be as clear-cut and candid as I can—Israel is a good society. It's democratic, it's open and welcoming. Minorities thrive. Look around a vast radius and you can see how Israel stands out. Everyone here can succeed. You can be an Arab Supreme Court Justice, or a Christian diplomat, or a female general, or a Druze minister, or a gay Member of Knesset. Our pluralism is our strength.
"We're not perfect," admitted Netanyahu while speaking to those gathered in the crowd. "I don't know what country is, and we always strive to improve. Israel is a moral nation that from its first day has tirelessly pursued peace with all our neighbours. And we can do a great deal of good in moving towards this not only with our neighbors but with every one of you.
"There is a revolution taking place right now in the world. It is challenged by the forces of militant Islam who want to take us back to a dark medievalism, but we will overcome it. Everywhere, we will overcome it. And the other force is propelling us into an amazing technological future. Everything, every single thing is becoming technologized: agriculture, water, health, transportation, cars—everything. And those who innovate will seize the future. Every one of your countries, every one of your societies should partake in this future. Everyone needs it. Israel happens to be now a global hub of technology. There are many reasons why it's happened. It's related to our history and our culture and to other circumstances, but it has happened.
"When I visited China recently, President Xi said to me, you know we're about to cross 1.4 billion people. And I said, well, we just crossed eight million. And he said, but you're a global power in innovation, in inventiveness. And I have to say that we want to share the fruits of our ingenuity in water, in agriculture, in medicine, in every single field that makes life better, longer, safer. And we want to do it, more than anything, with our neighbors, because if their life is good, our life will be good.
"So I, like many Israelis, I know the cost of war and that is why I am dedicated to pursuing this peace. I think this peace can be pursued today in ways that are different and perhaps weren't available before, because I believe that many in the region today understand that there are opportunities and advantages that weren't available before. I think that through the intertwining of regional normalization and Palestinian-Israeli normalization, we can bootstrap our way up to another historic peace. And I hope that the Palestinian leadership will make it possible for us to advance towards that peace.
Despite this comment on his wish for peace with the Palestinians, Netanyahu did not hold back criticism against its leadership, which funds terrorists held in Israeli prisons. "The payment of money to terrorists by a sliding scale—the more you kill the more you get—that's the opposite of peace. It sends exactly the wrong message to young Palestinians. We want them to move towards peace. The Palestinian Authority has paid, pays roughly 300 million dollars a year, specific payments, not social security, that doesn't exist regrettably in Palestinian society yet, but it's paid to a few thousand jailed terrorists. And now imagine what happens after a few years—it's a billion dollars, and after several years—it's several billion dollars. Imagine if all that money was put towards coexistence, education for peace, joint projects, for medicine, for agriculture, for sewage treatment, everything. Just imagine what can happen here.
"I think this could change the region, and yet it requires this clear-cut shift of direction. I think it's time to stop financing murder and to start financing peace. We are partners for peace. We seek it for our people. We pray for it, we yearn for it, and we’re ready to act for it. And we need partners for peace. I know that all of you seek it too. We welcome your cooperation in this effort and we want, of course, to cement our mutual relations.
"The Jewish people is powerless no longer, defenseless no longer, homeless no longer," concluded Netanyahu. "We use our power for good, to treat injured Syrian civilians, to prevent terror attacks, to serve as a model of what our troubled region could look like and what it should look like. Just imagine more Tel Avivs and fewer Aleppos.
"And yet, despite the shrill and hateful calls from Iran, and still from Palestinian quarters, to uproot Israel, we're not going anywhere. Israel is here to stay forever, growing stronger, more advanced, more prosperous, seeking peace."
Rivlin urges countries to 'recognize Jerusalem,' move embassies to Jerusalem
President Reuven Rivlin also referred to the UNESCO decision at the reception he hosted. After speaking of Israeli innovation and the relatively short time that has passed since its founding, Rivlin said that “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Since the days of King David, there was no other reality. It is time to put an end to the absurd. It is time to recognize Jerusalem, as the official capital of the State of Israel. It is time to move all the official embassies here. To Jerusalem.”
“When I visit other countries, and when we host heads of states from around the world, I am proud to hear that while Israel is just 69 years young, it is already known for its strengths. Israeli innovation is known around the world. Every day we build our cooperation; in agriculture, in science and research, in culture and education, and more.”
Central to the President’s address was the importance of the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. “The State of Israel is a fact. But it will never be taken for granted. We would not be standing here celebrating together, if not for the support, of the international community, or its recognition for the right of the Jewish People to return to our historical homeland and establish a national home. A home that has Jerusalem at its heart. Jerusalem has always been the center of the Jewish world. The place we have prayed towards for thousands of years. There was never any doubt that Jerusalem would be the capital of Israel. And 50 years ago, we returned to the Old City of Jerusalem, we united the whole city under Israeli sovereignty. We felt then, that the dream of Jerusalem as the physical and spiritual capital of Israel had finally become a reality.”
The President stressed to the diplomats from around the world, “Dear friends, for 70 years you have been coming here to Jerusalem to take part in official events; at the Israeli parliament, with the presidents of Israel, with the prime ministers of Israel, and many with others.” He noted, “Most of you are younger than me. You were born to the fact of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. You know no other reality. Since the days of King David, there was not, there is not, and there never will be any other reality. It is time to put an end to the absurd. It is time to recognize Jerusalem, as the official capital of the State of Israel. De facto, not just de jure. It is time to move all the official embassies here. To Jerusalem.”
The President concluded by once again welcoming his guests, and said, “Dear friends, it is my pleasure to welcome you all. I look forward to seeing you all from time to time. And when we meet for Israel’s 70th birthday, I hope your drive here will be much shorter. Happy Independence Day!”
In addition to the reception attended by ambassadors and diplomatic representatives, the President's Office received many greetings from leaders around the world including, Queen Elizabeth II, King Philip of Spain, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, US President Trump, Russian President Putin, French President Hollande, and many others.
Among the greetings, President Trump noted the US's support for Israel was "Ironclad", and added, "The tremendous strength of the United States-Israel relationship is reflected not only in the close partnership between our governments, but also in the ties that connect our two people."
President Hollande wrote, "In the unstable regional environment of today, Israel can be sure of France's support for the security of Israel," and added, "this is an absolute priority for France.”
Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot were also in attendance.
The President quoted from the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on ‘Semitic Languages’ from 1911, which read “The dream of some Zionists, that Hebrew—a would-be Hebrew, that is to say—will again become a living, popular language in Palestine, has still less prospect of realization than their vision of a restored Jewish empire in the Holy Land.”
The President stated, “I think of all we have achieved in the last 69 years, and now that we are entering the 70th year of the State of Israel, I am excited to think what groundbreaking achievements are still ahead of us.”
Israeli, Palestinian ambassadors to UNESCO decision with approval and indignation
UNESCO caused an uproar last year when member states approved a resolution that diminished Jewish ties to holy sites in Jerusalem. Israel suspended cooperation with the agency in response.
Elias Wadih Sanbar, the Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO, said Tuesday's resolution was part of efforts to "stop giving a kind of blank check to an occupier that is acting with total illegality and impunity.
The Israeli ambassador to the agency, Carmel Shama Hacohen, said those who supported the motion "have to feel ashamed," adding that "There is no reason to vote against any country, and especially on its Independence Day, and especially on a decision that tries to delete the historical connection of the Jewish people, a 3,000-year connection."
Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said he had instructed the country's representative to UNESCO to vote against "the latest politicized resolution on Jerusalem."
"Our opinion is very clear: UNESCO can't become the headquarters of a permanent ideological clash in which questions are faced for which the solutions are supposed to be handled in other headquarters," Alfano was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency ANSA.