Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 July 2019

US and Israel to leave Unesco over listing of Palestinian sites

The UN agency recognised two Hebron landmarks as belonging to the State of Palestine

Palestinians at the at the Ibrahimi mosque, also known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the West Bank city of Hebron, on July 8, 2017. Al Hashlamoun / EPA
Palestinians at the at the Ibrahimi mosque, also known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the West Bank city of Hebron, on July 8, 2017. Al Hashlamoun / EPA

The United States and Israel are set to leave Unesco, the United Nations cultural agency, late on Monday over the body’s decision to recognise several contested landmarks as belonging to the State of Palestine.

The withdrawal, which takes effect at midnight, comes one year after US President Donald Trump removed Washington as a member of the body, a move closely followed by Israel.

The agency is one of the most important in the world, serving as a protector of some of the most historic sites by listing them on its World Heritage list.

Two of those on the list angered both the US and Israel. In 2017, Unesco voted to make the old city of Hebron, the largest city in the occupied West Bank, a world heritage site. As part of that designation, the contested site at the centre of the city, the Ibrahimi Mosque to Muslims or the Cave of the Patriarchs to Jews, is also deemed a world heritage site.

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Such recognition means that those sites are able to receive World Heritage Fund assistance. It also alerts the international community to sites most in danger around the world.

Hardline Israeli settlers revere Hebron as one of the most biblical sites in the West Bank, setting up several illegal outposts on the hilltops around Hebron under the protection of thousands of Israeli settlers. Around 200,000 Palestinians live in Hebron under military occupation and restricted by a network of Israeli checkpoints that prevents their movement to certain areas of the city.

The city has been the site of the majority of stabbing and ramming attacks carried out by Palestinians against Israeli soldiers. Palestinians have accused Israeli soldiers of indiscriminately shooting and killing residents of the city and framing attacks as justification for their deaths.

Both Israel and the US administration, now closely aligned to the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, decided to leave Unesco for what it said was pro-Palestinian bias.

The US and Israel stopped paying its dues to Unesco in 2011 after it recognised the State of Palestine, the representative of any future sovereign Palestinian state. Both lost their voting rights in 2013.

Mr Netanyahu has since accused Unesco of anti-Semitism for passing resolutions about Jerusalem holy sites, identifying them only by their Muslim names, and rejecting Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, the contested city whose eastern section the Palestinians want as the capital of any future state.

Updated: December 31, 2018 04:55 PM

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