Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday slammed an “absurd” UNESCO resolution he said denies the Jews’ historical connection with Jerusalem by presenting Israel as an occupying power there.
The resolution, passed on Tuesday at the U.N. organization’s Paris headquarters, denounced actions taken by “Israel, the occupying power… to alter the character and status of the holy city of Jerusalem.” It particularly criticized Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem following its occupation of the city’s east in 1967, a move never recognized by the international community. It said such moves were “null and void and must be rescinded forthwith.”
Netanyahu dismissed the resolution, which passed by 22 votes to 10, with 23 abstentions. “There is no other people for whom Jerusalem is as holy and important as it is for the Jewish people,” he said in a statement, accusing UNESCO of “denying that simple truth.”
The Palestinian foreign ministry welcomed the declaration, calling it “a victory for international law.” It said the decision reaffirmed “the centrality of Jerusalem to world heritage as well as the need to confront the dangers posed by the illegal practices of Israel, the occupying power… which threaten the cultural and historical integrity of these invaluable sites.”
But Netanyahu claimed the vote was a victory for Israel. “The number of countries that supported this absurd proposal continues to decline,” he said. “A year ago 32 states supported it. Six months ago this figure had dropped to 26 and this time there are only 22.”
Israel claims Jerusalem as its united capital, while the Palestinians claim the city’s east as the capital of their future state.
Israeli officials criticized UNESCO for holding the vote on Tuesday, Israel’s Independence Day. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the vote “amounts to denying Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem and presents our country as an occupying state on the day when we celebrate our independence.”
Israel and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization had a similar showdown in October after the body passed an Arab-sponsored resolution that criticized the Jewish state for restricting access to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in annexed east Jerusalem. The UNESCO resolution referred to the holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City only by its Muslim name, Al-Aqsa or Al-Haram al-Sharif. Jews refer to the site as the Temple Mount and it is considered the holiest site in Judaism. Israel recalled its ambassador to UNESCO over the issue.