UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova on Tuesday issued a statement in which she deplored recent proposals under discussion by the UN cultural organization's Executive Board and said those could lead to more tensions.
Bokova appealed to the UNESCO Executive Board, which is set to discuss a resolution tabled by six Arab countries on behalf of the Palestinians on Wednesday, to take decisions that do not further inflame the current tensions in Israel and that encourage respect for the sanctity of the holy sites.
The protection of cultural heritage should not be taken hostage, as this undermines UNESCO’s mandate and efforts, Bokova said in a statement on Tuesday
“We all have responsibility to UNESCO’s mandate, to take decisions that promote dialogue, tolerance and peace,” declared Bokova. “This is especially important for young people, who should be nurtured and educated for peace.”
Jerusalem was the Holy Land of the three monotheistic religions, a place of dialogue for all Jewish, Christian and Muslim people and a mosaic of cultures and peoples, whose history has shaped the history of all humanity. The UNESCO chief again appealed for dialogue and consensus so that UNESCO’s mandate of protecting World Heritage and promoting tolerance and mutual respect could be taken forward.
She reiterated her calls to all parties to ensure that cultural heritage, including religious, is preserved and accessible to all and to resume dialogue in the spirit of mutual understanding.
On Monday, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder warned the UNESCO Executive against exacerbating tensions in Israel and urged the members to reject the resolution, which declares the Western Wall in Jerusalem a part of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and accuses Israel of not protecting the holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Lauder said "UNESCO must not be turned into a battleground for conflicts between religions.”
Also on Monday, WJC CEO Robert Singer wrote to Bokova and appealed to her "to do all in your power to prevent this offensive and ill-advised resolution from being adopted."
The draft resolution, which is sponsored by six Arab states (Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates) on behalf of the Palestinians, also seeks to confirm an earlier UNESCO decision that the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb, two West Bank sites holy to both Jews and Muslims, are part of a Palestinian state.