Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Israel Officially Withdraws from UNESCO

Israel Officially Withdraws from UNESCO

Sunday, 24 December, 2017 - 09:15
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, May 7, 2017. (Reuters)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that his government took the official decision to withdraw from United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Netanyahu said on Friday that he instructed Israel’s envoy to UNESCO Shama Hacohen to submit a formal withdrawal letter to the organization’s director general Audrey Azoulay before the end of the year.

According to UNESCO, a country's withdrawal from the organization takes effect on December 31 of the year following when the notice was given. Accordingly, Israel's departure will become effective on December 31, 2018.

Sources confirmed that Tel Aviv's decision came after two months of deliberations among Israeli and US diplomatic channels.

Earlier in October, the US announced that it will be quitting UNESCO due to its "continuing anti-Israel bias" and after amassing financial debt to the agency.

However, sources in Washington wondered why Israel had not taken a similar move especially that US withdrawal favored Israel. Netenyahu responded that he had instructed the Foreign Ministry to proceed with the withdrawal measures.

He praised the US declaration, calling it "a brave and moral decision, because UNESCO has become the theater of the absurd and because instead of preserving history, it distorts it."

The final decision was taken by Netanyahu after a series of discussions and after Trump declared Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Israel had taken a hostile stance against UNESCO because it has stood against its brutal occupation practices against Palestinian heritage and almost all non-Jewish historical monuments in Israel itself, and later in the occupied territories in 1967 particularly in Old City of Jerusalem.

Since 1968, UNESCO had taken a decision to require the Israeli government to take all measures to protect cultural property in the city and to refrain from carrying out any excavation, transfer of its property or alteration of its cultural features.

For six years, Israel refused to comply with the resolution, which prompted UNESCO to take a new decision in 1974 to refrain from providing cultural and scientific assistance to Israel.

Four years later, UNESCO took two major decisions. It first sent an urgent appeal to Israel to refrain from all measures preventing the Arab Palestinian population from enjoying their rights to education, cultural and national life, and second, it condemned Israel for changing Jerusalem's historical and cultural features and for “Judaizing” it.

The great deterioration in relations between Israel and UNESCO began in 2016 when the organization listed 55 world heritage sites on its list of endangered sites, including the Old City of East Jerusalem and its walls.

UNESCO then adopted a resolution denying the religious affiliation of Jews to the Temple Mount, including the Wailing Wall.

Earlier in May, the UNESCO Executive Council reaffirmed in Paris the organization's previous resolutions that consider Israel an occupier of Jerusalem and reject Israel's sovereignty over it.

Netanyahu then declared that Israel would reduce its financial contribution to UNESCO's budget.

Editor Picks