Abbas, UNESCO, and the Test of Diplomacy

, May 7, 2017

Institute for Contemporary Affairs

Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation

Just a day before President Donald Trump received the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, for a summit meeting at the White House, UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, adopted a resolution on Jerusalem, the third in a whole sequence in the last two years that sought to delegitimize the State of Israel and its status as protector of the Holy City.

There has always been deception and missed truths in international diplomacy. In the 17th century there was a British diplomat named Sir Henry Wotton who said that an ambassador is an honest gentleman sent abroad to lie for his country, while UNESCO is a whole institution dedicated to lying, particularly against the rights of the State of Israel, and here they went again and did it.

In the past, UNESCO would speak about who has rights in the area of the Temple Mount. They would use only Arabic nomenclature – the Haram al-Sharif – when they would speak about it, and they ignored any Jewish presence or Jewish rights. Now the latest resolution addresses the issue of the illegality of Israel’s position. The past resolutions and the current resolutions are completely false.

How do we know that UNESCO has been distorting history and deceiving the international community on so many occasions? UNESCO not only dealt with the issue of Jerusalem, it focused in particular on the issue of Rachel’s Tomb, which is located just beyond the southern border of Jerusalem. Around 2010, UNESCO began to speak about the Bilal Bin Rabah mosque in Bethlehem as an additional name to Rachel’s Tomb. Where did they get this? The Palestinian Authority just a few years earlier started making that reference to Rachel’s Tomb and in doing so tried again to take a famous Jewish holy site and convert it to an exclusively Islamic position in the Holy Land.

The irony of this move by the Palestinian Authority in the 1990s is that if you go to the documents of the Ottoman Empire, we have an imperial firman of the Ottoman Sultan who describes Rachel’s Tomb as a Jewish site. It never refers to it as the Bilal Bin Rabah mosque because Bilal Bin Rabah, who was the first muazzin of Islam according to the Islamic tradition, was buried in Damascus, not in Bethlehem. But not only did the Palestinian Authority put forward this twisted agenda, it was picked up by UNESCO, which is supposed to be responsible for some kind of educational truth. It wasn’t.

Given this background, one might have thought that Mahmoud Abbas would have been very careful about letting the Palestinians and his Arab allies move forward with these kinds of Flat Earth Society resolutions, but he didn’t. He wasn’t careful, and the resolution went through despite the strong feelings by many of the Western powers.

Ironically, if you visit the website of UNESCO, you’ll find that they speak about building peace in the minds of men and women. This is the official tagline of UNESCO, but it’s hardly what UNESCO really does.

If we’re ever to reach peace in the Middle East, then international organizations dedicated to education have to reflect the truth and not politicize deception. And if the Palestinians want to make peace with Israel, they will have to recognize Israel’s fundamental rights in this region and not continue to engage in the delegitimization of the State of Israel by using international organizations and manipulating them in their favor.

About Amb. Dore Gold

Ambassador Dore Gold has served as President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs since 2000. From June 2015 until October 2016 he served as Director-General of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Previously he served as Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN (1997-1999), and as an advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.