nsnbc : The United States and Israel have both withdrawn from the UN Science, Culture and Education Agency UNESCO after accusing it of having an anti-Israeli bias.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement “This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation, and continuing anti-Israel bias.” “Today is a new day at the U.N., where there is price to pay for discrimination against Israel,” Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon said.

The U.S. and Israeli withdrawal from UNESCO comes amidst complicated rivalries for the post of the new UNESCO Director General with rivals Qatar and Egypt both competing for the post, along with France. Middle Eastern politics are complicating the voting for a new director general, but it’s also a big financial blow to the agency which protects the world’s heritage sites.

“I would like to remind the American people that on the World Heritage List is the Statue of Liberty, which says something not just for the Americans but to the world with a very strong message,” Director-General Irina Bokova told reporters in UNESCO’s Paris headquarters. Washington has already withheld its funding for UNESCO since 2011, when the body admitted Palestine as a full member.

al-aqsa_jerusalem_palestine_israel_2016The United States and Israel were among just 14 of 194 members that voted against admitting the Palestinians. Washington’s arrears on its $80 million annual dues since then are now over $500 million. Although Washington – nominally – supports a future independent Palestinian state, it says this should emerge out of peace talks and it considers it unhelpful for international organisations to admit Palestine until negotiations are complete. In recent years, Israel has repeatedly complained about what it says is the body taking sides in disputes over cultural heritage sites in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.

Netanyahu told world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly last month that UNESCO was promoting “fake history” after it designated Hebron and the two adjoined shrines at its heart – the Jewish Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Muslim Ibrahimi Mosque – as a “Palestinian World Heritage Site in Danger.” An Arab-backed UNESCO resolution last year condemned Israeli’s policies at religious sites in East Jerusalam and the West Bank. Under UNESCO rules, the U.S. withdrawal will become effective as of the end of December 2018.

In October 2016, following a controversial UNESCO vote which saw the adoption of a draft resolution sharply criticizing Israeli policies around the Al-Aqsa Mosque, while supposedly rejecting Jewish ties to the holy site — referred to by Jews as the “Temple Mount” — was received warmly by the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Fuad Twal_Palestine_ChurchThe Palestinian Authority’s statement said that the decision to adopt the UNESCO resolution reflected the “continued commitment of the majority of member states to confront impunity and uphold the principles upon which UNESCO was founded.” The statement continued to express the PA’s disappointment with several countries which had changed their votes that were initially in favor of the resolution, after what the statement referred to as Israel’s “PR bullying.”

“Rather than spending millions to spin its illegal colonization into normalcy and distort reality, Israel, the occupying power, must understand that the only way to be treated like a normal state is if it starts acting like one, by ending its occupation of Palestine and seizing its irresponsible and illegal actions in the occupied land of the State of Palestine, especially East Jerusalem,” the statement read.

The statement added that Palestinian activities at the UN and on the international level would not be “deterred by distortions and smear campaigns,” and would continue pressuring the international community to take responsibility and act on Israel’s violations of international law “which have continued with impunity for half a century.”

Israel, destroying ancient Islamic sites, dating back to the time of the Ummayad, Abbasid eras and Ottoman eras in occupied Jerusalem

Israel accused of destroying ancient Islamic sites, dating back to the time of the Ummayad, Abbasid eras and Ottoman eras in occupied Jerusalem

Spokesperson for the Palestinian Presidency, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, also released a statement responding to the UNESCO decision, saying that he hoped that the resolution would highlight that the United States should “revise its mistaken policies of encouraging the continued occupation of Palestinian lands,” while showing Israel the importance of ending its occupation of Palestine, including East Jerusalem, and to end its policies that “contribute to increasing tensions.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for his part, sharply denounced the decision, calling it “delusional” and adding that “to say that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China and that Egypt has no connection to the Pyramids.” “With this absurd decision, UNESCO lost the little legitimization it had left. But I believe that the historical truth is stronger and the truth will win,” he added.

The resolution also criticized Israel’s continued excavations around the holy site, saying that UNESCO “deeply deplores the failure of Israel, the occupying Power, to cease the persistent excavations and works in East Jerusalem particularly in and around the Old City.”

F/AK – nsnbc 13.10.2017