Another UN agency takes aim at Israel

Light Rail

This time it’s UNESCO issuing a report critical of Israel.

UNESCO is condemning Israel for what excavating in Jerusalem that, according to the report is damaging Islamic holy sites and Muslim artifacts and “endangering” the Old City. The report In particular, they are concerned about the building of a light rail system close to the Temple Mount.

Israeli’s foreign ministry was quick to slap back. Calling the report one sided for ignoring both the Jewish and Christian connections to Jerusalem. And for only viewing the Temple Mount as a Muslim holy site of worship.

In a statement, Foreign Ministry Director Dore Gold says, given the deliberate destruction by ISIS of artifacts throughout the Middle East, the report critical of Israel is “misplaced and hypocritical at best.”


What the UNESCO vote on Palestine means for the UN


JERUSALEM – In a development that gave the Palestinian leadership a significant hand up, the United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) became the first international organization to admit Palestine as a full member last week despite strong opposition from several member countries.

This is the first reward for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ efforts to see Palestine accepted as a member into key international organizations.

While this achievement has not changed the reality on the ground, and despite the gap between Israelis and the Palestinians being wider than ever, the UNESCO vote suggests an opportunity for the UN to become a positive agent of change in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The UN, in charge of protecting human rights and democratic values across the world, is the most appropriate international body to take up an important role in helping both sides reach an agreement. A growing role for the UN could bring certain advantages over other actors such as the Quartet on the Middle East and the United States.

Even though the UN is currently represented in the Quartet (along with the United States, Russia and the European Union), it may be more effective as an independent actor in the peace process. The Quartet – which is currently trying to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians – suffers from a lack of trust on the part of the Palestinians, with several Palestinian officials commenting that it is failing to bridge the gaps between the sides.

The Quartet may be ineffectual because its positions mirror Israeli-Palestinian dynamics, with half the members supporting the Palestinian approach and the other half supporting that of the Israelis. Thus, the Quartet remains divided and ineffectual.

Both the United Nations’ General Assembly and the Security Council may be able to offer a more effective form of international involvement in which a greater range of international actors are represented. However, as things stand right now there is a growing rift between the Security Council where the Palestinian bid will likely meet with a U.S. veto and the General Assembly which is much more likely to accept the Palestinian membership bid. Rather than face such an awkward standoff, shouldn’t the two bodies work together to shape a constructive role for themselves in the peace process, a role that is likely to be more dynamic and therefore less likely to end in a deadlock?

The UN has a good foundation to build upon as, along with many Palestinians and Israelis, it agrees on the principle of a two-state solution. Why not enable the UN to fulfill its designated role of helping to solve conflicts and protect human rights and international law?

Despite the price – the UNESCO vote has prompted the Israeli government to announce the construction of 2,000 housing units in the settlements and East Jerusalem and withhold taxes collected for the Palestinian Authority – for many Palestinians the strategy of pursuing greater international involvement may be the only hope left for generating a process that will eventually end the historical conflict.

The UN General Assembly and other UN organisations are clearly in the process of becoming much more vocal on the subject. Although the United States has condemned UNESCO’s move saying that it is only a symbolic achievement that brings no concrete gains for either side, with the current situation of increased settlement building and the Palestinians moving further away from the negotiating table, there is a role for symbolic achievements to keep hope alive that a solution to the conflict is possible.

From the Palestinian point of view anything that functions to keep the idea of two states high up on the agenda and put pressure on both sides to move forward is welcome.

Time is running short, however. The moderate Palestinian leadership is in danger of losing the support of the street for its diplomatic approach if it doesn’t bring significant results. Moreover, the region is witnessing tectonic developments with the Arab Spring and escalating tensions between Iran and the West over Iranian ambitions to move forward with its nuclear projects. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in danger once again of being overshadowed, providing yet another opportunity to miss an opportunity for both sides.

The UNESCO recognition of Palestine is a sign that there is a will amongst many in the international community to push toward a two-state solution. Now is the time for that community to promote the understanding that compromise is necessary to achieve a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad is a leading Palestinian blogger and founder of the Middle East Post. He is also a project manager at the international conflict transformation organization Search for Common Ground. This article represents his own views, not necessarily those of SFCG. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service.

UNESCO votes in ‘Palestine’

UNESCO photo by Dou Matar

UNESCO’s General Conference Monday voted to admit Palestine as a member state of the organization.

For its membership to take effect, Palestine must sign and ratify UNESCO’s Constitution.

Palestine’s entry will bring the number of UNESCO’s member states to 195.

The vote was carried by 107 votes in favor of admission and 14 votes against with 52 abstentions.

Admission to UNESCO for states that are not members of the United Nations requires a recommendation by the Organization’s Executive Board and a two thirds majority.

The United States had threatened to withhold funds to UNESCO if it recognized Palestine as a member state.

Irish rocker Bob Geldof lauds Israel’s African humanitarian efforts


JERUSALEM – Various world leaders and a large portion of the international press spend a great deal of time trying to smear Israel and paint it as an oppressive and defiant rogue state. But every once in a while, major international figure forces everyone else to step back and see the truth – that despite being constantly maligned, Israel works tirelessly to aid the world’s sick, hungry and underprivileged.

Speaking at a conference on aid to Africa in Herzliya, famed Irish rocker Bob Geldof said that Israel’s efforts in Africa must be recognized.

“There’s something noble about the fact that Israel, a country born in misery and suffering, aspires to assist Africa,” said Geldof, who is also widely known for his own efforts to combat poverty there.

Over the decades, Israel has been involved in countless projects in most African countries. Teams of doctors and medical experts from the Israeli army and Israel’s major hospitals make regular excurions to Africa to help treat illnesses that most African nations are simply unequipped to handle.

Israel was also praised by the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Speaking in Jerusalem, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said her organization has “excellent cooperation” with Israel, and especially thanked the Jewish state for its role in promoting education for women.

Bokova said she was troubled by recent resolutions passed against Israel by UNESCO’s Executive Board.

Article courtesy Israel Today Magazine.