x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Israel calls off Unesco mission to Jerusalem

Israel accuses Palestinians of 'politicising' United Nations investigative mission to the Old City in annexed East Jerusalem, cancelling visit arranged in 2010.

JERUSALEM // Israel announced yesterday that it was calling off a United Nations investigative mission to the Old City in annexed East Jerusalem because of Palestinian efforts to politicise the visit.

"Israel has cancelled the delegation," which was due to have arrived the same day, said a foreign ministry official.

"The Palestinians were not respecting the understandings. The visit was supposed to be professional, but they were taking measures that showed they were politicising the event and not letting the delegation focus on professional sides of it," the official said.

Israel in April agreed that the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) could assess the state of the Old City of Jerusalem, the first such monitoring mission since 2004, following pressure from Jordan and the Palestinians, who became members of the organisation in 2011.

But ahead of the start of the delegation's work, the Palestinians were trying to "politicise" it, Israel said, contrary to understandings reached by the sides, and to change the action plan Unesco decided upon in 2010.

"Palestinian foreign minister Riad Malki recently said they considered the mission a 'commission of inquiry,'" the official said, "and said they would discuss political issues with the mission."

"The Palestinians are also pushing for the delegation to visit the Temple Mount," which is revered as Judaism's most sacred place, said the official, using the Israeli term for the complex known to Muslims as Al Haram Al Sharif that houses the Al Aqsa Mosque.

Cultural and religious heritage is a highly politicised issue for Israel and the Palestinians.

In March, the Palestinian Authority confirmed a verbal agreement dating back to 1924 giving Jordan custodianship over Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, whose eastern sector Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war.