PA Drops UNESCO Kotel Bid - Partially

PA backs down on claiming Kotel as a Muslim site, but is still trying to claim Cave of Machpelah and Rachel's Tomb.

Ari Yashar ,

Priestly blessing at Kotel (Western Wall)
Priestly blessing at Kotel (Western Wall)
Hadas Parush/Flash 90

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has removed its demand that UNESCO recognize the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem as a Muslim site and part of the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount.

A vote on the request was to be held on Wednesday and was expected to pass due to the automatic Muslim majority in the UN body, but apparently pressure by the US, as well as Israeli Ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, and the Foreign Ministry, succeeded in giving the PA cold feet, reports Yedioth Aharonoth.

However, the PA is still presenting a proposal that retains the demand to have the Cave of Machpelah in Hevron - where the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs other than Rachel are buried - as well as Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem, recognized as Muslim sites.

The PA had tried to have the Kotel recognized as "Buraq Plaza," in reference to the name "Al-Buraq" Wall which was given by Muslims to the Kotel in the 1920s in an attempt to claim it. The name refers to Mohammed's "winged steed," which he supposedly rode to Jerusalem in his "night journey." The Kotel is in fact a remaining outer wall from the Second Temple.

Driving the PA's attempt to claim Rachel's Tomb is the recent Muslim revision according to which the tomb is the grave of Bilal ibn Rabah, a companion of Mohammed, who was never in the Land of Israel.

Possibly causing the PA's partial about-face was intense criticism from UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova on Tuesday afternoon, when she urged UNESCO members to reject the proposal.

Bokova "deplored" the proposal that "incites tensions," warning: "the protection of cultural heritage should not be taken hostage, as this undermines UNESCO’s mandate and efforts."

The proposal received strong condemnations from Israeli officials and Diaspora Jewish leaders alike.