Israel may reconsider exit from UNESCO

Israeli ambassador reportedly urging government to reconsider quitting UN's cultural agency, says its anti-Israel bias has toned down.

Elad Benari,

UNESCO headquarters in Paris
UNESCO headquarters in Paris
iStock

Israel's ambassador to UNESCO, the UN’s cultural body, said Tuesday he was urging his government to reconsider its decision to quit the organization, saying it had halted its "anti-Israeli resolutions" over the past year, AFP reported.

In December, Israel announced it would leave UNESCO in protest of its continued approval of anti-Israel resolutions. The announcement came several months after the U.S. State Department declared that the U.S. would be leaving UNESCO by 2019 due to its anti-Israel bias.

Israeli ambassador Carmel Shama-Hacohen said, however, there had been a change of tone under the Paris-based agency's new Jewish chief Audrey Azoulay, a former French culture minister who was elected last year.

"What I'm going to recommend to my ministry and my government is at least to reconsider our decision," Shama-Hacohen told journalists by telephone, according to AFP.

"It could be postponing the date of leaving for one year or something like that," he suggested, which would delay the scheduled departure until at least December 2019.

The United States’ announcement that it was pulling out of the organization followed two Arab-sponsored resolutions adopted by UNESCO this year which were critical of Israel.

One referred to the Jewish state as "the occupying power" in Jerusalem. Another declared the Old City of Hevron as a “Palestinian World Heritage site”.

In 2016, UNESCO passed resolutions declaring that Israel has no rights to Jerusalem, and described the Temple Mount and Old City of Jerusalem as Muslim holy sites.

These resolutions, however, have now been reworded and the Israeli, Palestinian Arab and Jordanian officials adopted amended versions of them, according to AFP.

The new resolutions -- adopted through a rare consensus -- keep the two sites on the list, but remove phrasing which Israel had considered aggressive.

Shama-Hacohen said that under Azoulay's leadership there had been a "new spirit and new energy", noting, "We haven't had any anti-Israeli resolutions at UNESCO for one year."

Staying put would be "a miracle", he added, "but there is an option for it."

Azoulay welcomed Tuesday's consensus between the usually feuding parties, calling it "a win-win situation".

She said she hoped it would "allow a period with less tension that should open the way for more UNESCO work on the ground".


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