U.N. Objects to Arab Proposal to Classify Western Wall After Outrage by Israel and Jewish-American Groups

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Senior United Nations officials have objected to a proposal by some Arab states to classify the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, as part of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, following angry denunciations by Israel and many Jewish-American groups.

The proposal is contained in a draft resolution to the executive board of Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The agency formally designates cultural treasures around the world.

The proposal to Unesco has emerged at a time when deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians has been flaring over the holy site, known as the Temple Mount to Jews and Noble Sanctuary to Muslims. New clashes erupted on Tuesday that left at least four Palestinians fatally shot.

The Unesco director general, Irina Bokova, expressed her objection to the resolution on Tuesday in a stern statement, saying it “could be seen to alter the status of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls.”

The Western Wall, as part of the Old City of Jerusalem, is a Unesco World Heritage site adjacent to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, and its protection is central to the Unesco mandate. “The protection of cultural heritage should not be taken hostage,” the statement from Ms. Bokova’s office said.

Unesco officials would not share the text of the resolution or identify its sponsors. Jewish groups, which have strenuously objected to the proposal, said it was expected to be introduced by six Arab members of Unesco’s executive board: Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.

Groups including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the New York Board of Rabbis have called on the executive board to reject the proposal, saying it would falsely rewrite history.

David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, called the proposal a “naked assault on historical fact and brazen effort to strip the Jewish people of the age-old link to our most sacred site, the Western Wall.”

Israel has aggressively lobbied against the measure. “The shameful and deceitful Palestinian attempt to rewrite history will fail the test of reality,” the deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, said in a statement late Monday.

Attempts to bring the measure up for a vote as early as Tuesday appeared to have been delayed. Broader diplomatic efforts designed to cool tempers in the region have so far delivered little.

The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, visited Jerusalem on Tuesday for meetings with officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin of Israel, saying “I am here in the hope that we can work together to end the violence, ease the tensions and begin to restore a long-term political horizon of peace.”

There were no signs of conciliation from the Israelis or Palestinians.

While Mr. Netanyahu welcomed Mr. Ban, he blamed President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority for the violence, describing him as a fomenter.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Somini Sengupta