A bit of quiet diplomacy goes a long way: UNESCO given the green light to enter Jerusalem's Old City
A Palestinian woman outside the al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem
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Jordan and Palestine, supported by other Arab states, helped secure Israeli acceptance of a UNESCO experts’ mission to investigate and assess the status of heritage and conservation of the Old City of Jerusalem on Tuesday.
This breakthrough is the result of a recent agreement signed between His Majesty King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, under which Jordan is entitled to take all the necessary legal procedures to defend Al Aqsa Mosque and Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, according to a statement sent to The Jordan Times by the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs later Tuesday.
Lobbying at UNESCO is part of these efforts to curb Israeli unilateral measures in the holy city.
According to the statement, the mission will embark on its Jerusalem job on May 15, 2013, and is expected to compile a report and recommendations before June 1st, 2013, just before the beginning of the World Heritage Committee’s 37th session.
The Israeli commitment came Tuesday in an official letter presented to the UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova and in a statement read by Israel in front of the current UNESCO Executive Board’s 191st Session in Paris.
“The experts’ mission mandate will also include a follow-up on the progress of UNESCO action plan for safeguarding and conserving the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls,” the statement said.
Jordan registered Jerusalem as a World Heritage Site in 1981 and a World Heritage Site in Danger in 1982.
The ministry added that Israel has also been pressured to participate in a UNESCO technical meeting regarding recent Israeli violations against the area of the Buraq Wall and Bab Al Magharbeh in Paris next month, adding that Jordan and Palestine have condemned the Israeli absence from a similar UNESCO meeting that was held in April 2012.
Jordanian and Palestinian representatives at UNESCO have made two previous statements warning against the continuation of recent escalatory Israeli violations against the holy sites and the authenticity of the heritage of the Old City of Jerusalem, the ministry noted.
“The two statements also warned Israel against violating its commitments to this mission, which were made in front of a UNESCO delegation.” The two representatives emphasised that Israel must be fully committed to international obligations, the ministry said.
Claims over the bias of UNESCO are raised routinely by Israel and the US whenever Jerusalem is discussed at meetings, the official statement added.
Since 2004, Jordan and Palestine have issued annual UNESCO resolutions condemning the Israeli occupation’s violations against Jerusalem and demanding Israel to facilitate the UNESCO experts’ mission. According to the statement, “Israel has not complied to these calls until today in an attempt to keep its violations covert and to impose its occupation plans on the ground”.