TEL AVIV – Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni slammed UNESCO for repeatedly passing anti-Israel resolutions and called on the cultural agency to reject an upcoming vote pushed by the Palestinians designating the city of Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs – one of Judaism’s holiest sites – as endangered sites under the “State of Palestine.”
Delivering the closing address at the UNESCO International Conference on the Empowerment of Women in Paris on Friday, Livni, a member of the opposition Zionist Union party, said that “after the adoption of distorted resolutions about Jerusalem, and with a fraudulent resolution about Hebron currently on the table,” she was unsure about whether to attend the event at all, Ynet reported.
“I am an opposition leader in Israel, but I am not in opposition to the history of my people and not in opposition to the truth,” Livni said. “These decisions will not harm my people’s connection to [Jerusalem and Hebron], but they will hurt UNESCO and the ability to promote common interests.”
Israel slammed UNESCO for a slew of controversial resolutions, including one in April that denied any Jewish connections to Jerusalem and deemed the capital “occupied Palestinian territory.”
“UNESCO must not be turned into a political arena,” Livni said during the UN body’s conference. “There are representatives from countries that have conflicts between them, but they must be left outside the building. Unfortunately, there are member states that exploit UNESCO for political purposes and to open conflicts.”
In a video (Hebrew) posted on her Facebook page, Livni defended her decision to speak at the UNESCO event.
“At first I thought I would not come because they have taken terrible decisions, but then I thought, if I am getting a hearing here at UNESCO, I am going to say what I have to, not only on the issue of women, but also what I think about the decisions that are on their table about Hebron next week,” Livni said.
“They are going to hear what one woman from Israel thinks of these decisions. We can make a difference here.”
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee will vote on July 2 on whether the Old City of Hebron, including the Tomb of Patriarchs, will be included on the endangered sites list. The Palestinian Authority sped up the process with claims of “Israeli violations… including vandalism” at the site.
Since, as in many international forums, there is an automatic Arab majority at UNESCO, the vote is likely to pass, making Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs the third cultural site in “Palestine” listed by UNESCO as endangered. The other two are Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem and the “cultural landscape of Southern Jerusalem” around Battir.
Last week, Israel banned a fact-finding mission from entering Hebron ahead of the vote.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to grant permits to a group of scholars from the International Council on Monuments and Sites.
“On a strategic and principled level, the State of Israel will not take part in and will not legitimize any Palestinian political move under the guise of culture and heritage,” said Israel’s Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama-Hacohen.
A few days later, Israel’s mission to the UN petitioned UNESCO to conduct a secret ballot for the vote.
Twenty-one countries are set to vote on the resolution on July 7 in Krakow, Poland. At least one country with no diplomatic relations with Israel has indicated that it may vote against it, Yedioth Aharonoth reported. According to Shama-Hacohen, Cuba, Indonesia, Kuwait or Lebanon – four World Heritage Committee members that do not have diplomatic ties with Israel – would oppose the vote if the ballot were secret.
Israel is hoping that a secret ballot will sway the vote and allow for the two-thirds majority needed to block the resolution.