TEL AVIV – U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called on the secretary-general of the UN and the UNESCO chief to oppose the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to inscribe Hebron’s old city and the Tomb of the Patriarchs on its list of endangered sites under the “State of Palestine.”
“The Tomb of the Patriarchs, which is sacred to three faiths, is under no immediate threat. Such a designation risks undermining the seriousness such an assessment by UNESCO should have,” Haley wrote in a letter addressed to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.
A vote on the motion is scheduled for Friday during the World Heritage Committee’s meeting in Krakow, Poland. 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. The U.S. is not one of the 21-member states of the World Heritage Committee.
“Many precious sites — from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Libya to Iraq to Syria — are under real and imminent threat of destruction today. They urgently demand UNESCO’s full and immediate attention, which should not be wasted on this sort of symbolic action,” Haley wrote in her letter.
“As the United States is engaged in trying to increase the chances of a peace deal that is in the best interest of both Israelis and Palestinians, this effort at UNESCO… is particularly ill-timed and unfortunate,” Haley continued. “I hope you will join the United States in opposing this measure.”
UNESCO has come under fire by Israel, the US and other nations for a series of moves deemed anti-Israel, most recently in May, when its executive board ratified a resolution denying any Jewish legal or historical Israeli links to Jerusalem and calling Israel an “occupying power” in its own capital.
That resolution also criticized the Israeli government for archaeological projects in the capital and in Hebron and lambasted its naval blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
Guterres, considered more sympathetic to Israel than his predecessors, is slated to visit the Jewish state next month. He has been critical of efforts to politicize UNESCO. Bokovo, who will end her term as the agency’s director-general later this year, also has spoken out in the past against anti-Israel resolutions that deny the Jewish people’s link to religious sites in the Holy Land.
Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, thanked Haley for her support.
“Ambassador Nikki Haley’s letter speaks for itself about the absurdity that is the persecution of the Jewish state in every international forum and especially at UNESCO,” he said. “Unfortunately, no new US ambassador to UNESCO has yet been appointed, and if only we had on our side here an ambassador who had the determination and the courage of Nikki Haley, the conditions of our battle would be entirely different.”
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.
A few days later, Israel’s mission to the UN petitioned UNESCO to conduct a secret ballot for the vote.