The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) passed a resolution on Tuesday criticizing Israeli policies in occupied East Jerusalem and the besieged Gaza Strip.
The resolution — which passed with 22 countries in favor, 10 voting against, and 23 abstaining — criticized Israel’s refusal to cease “persistent excavations, tunneling, works, and projects in East Jerusalem,” and stressed that these procedures were illegal under international law.
“All legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem, are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith,” the text read.
The resolution also reaffirmed the importance of Jerusalem to the three monotheistic religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.
In the besieged Gaza Strip, the resolution condemned Israel’s military operations in and around the coastal enclave and the decade-long closure of the small Palestinian territory, while requesting that Israel lift the devastating blockade.
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the resolution’s passage on Twitter, saying: “We reject UNESCO. We will uphold our truth, which is the TRUTH itself.”
“There is no nation in the world for whom Jerusalem is more holy than the Jewish people. UNESCO is trying to deny this truth,” he added.
Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, of the ruling Likud party, was quoted by Israeli media on Monday saying that the resolution was “absurd.”
“We have become used to the concept of ‘fake news’. Well, welcome to ‘fake history’,” she said, a play on what has become the ultraright US President Donald Trump’s catchphrase for any reporting that is critical of his presidency. She reportedly added that UNESCO has become “a tool in the service of Palestinian propaganda against Israel.”
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement applauding the resolution.
“We reiterate the single most important threat confronting Jerusalem and other important heritage sites in Palestine continues to be the Israeli occupation and its illegal practices, as well as its intransigence and refusal to respect international law and the obligations it must honor in accordance with these laws,” the statement read.
The statement also expressed appreciation to the member states that had voted in favor of the resolution, while expressing “disappointment” in the “small minority that succumbed to the cynical campaign of political manipulation against Palestine’s resolution.”
“The State of Palestine will continue to work with the international community to advance respect for international law and ensure that this respect is universal,” the statement added.
Earlier on Tuesday, Palestinian factions organized a protest outside UNESCO offices in the central occupied West Bank city of Ramallah during the UNESCO session being held in Paris to discuss the resolution.
A coordinator for political activities in the Ramallah districts Issam Bakr told Ma’an that protesters had handed a letter to a representative of UNESCO who promised to convey the message to Paris “immediately.”
In their letter to UNESCO, Palestinian factions expressed their worries regarding “ongoing Israeli pressure” on international organizations to influence their responses to Israeli “violations and aggressive policies in Jerusalem, which seek to change the religious and historical features of the city.”
The letter urged UNESCO to word their draft resolution in strong terms and to ignore the Israeli pressures.
The resolution reflected a softer version of a draft resolution passed last year that sharply criticized Israeli policies in Jerusalem, and which Israeli leaders accused of denying Jewish ties to holy sites by only using the Islamic name for Al-Aqsa Mosque, “Al-Aqsa/Haram al-Sharif,” without mentioning the Jewish name “Temple Mount.”
Israel suspended its cooperation with UNESCO following the passage of the draft resolution last year. Israel had previously suspended its funding to UNESCO in 2011, when the UN agency voted to admit Palestine as a full member.