November 4, 2011
You have to hand it to the Palestinians.
They decided to abandon the peace process and seek international recognition of the "State of Palestine" - a state in a de facto state of war with Israel. And they are pursuing their goal relentlessly.
This week their efforts bore their first fruit with the UN's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) vote to accept "Palestine" as a full state member.
It is not a coincidence that the PLO/PA decided to apply for membership for "Palestine" at UNESCO first. Since 1974, UNESCO has been an enthusiastic partner in the Palestinians' bid to erase Jewish history, heritage and culture in the Land of Israel from the historical record.
In 1974, UNESCO voted to boycott Israel and to "withhold assistance from Israel in the fields of education, science and culture because of Israel's persistent alteration of historic features in Jerusalem."
UNESCO's moves to deny Jewish ties to Jerusalem and the rest of historic Israel have continued unabated ever since. For instance, in 1989, UNESCO condemned "Israel's occupation of Jerusalem," claiming it was destroying the city through "acts of interference, destruction and transformation."
In 1996, UNESCO held a symposium on Jerusalem at its Paris headquarters. No Jewish or Israeli groups were invited to participate.
Beginning in 1996, the Arab Wakf on the Temple Mount began systematically destroying artifacts of the Second Temple. The destruction was undertaken during illegal excavations under the Temple Mount carried out to construct an illegal, unlicensed mosque at Solomon's Stables.
UNESCO never bothered to condemn this act. It was silent despite the fact that the Wakf's actions constituted a grave breach of the very international laws related to antiquities and sacred sites that UNESCO is charter bound to protect. Similarly, UNESCO never condemned Palestinian desecration of Rachel's Tomb, of Joesph's Tomb or of any of the ancient synagogues in Gaza and Jericho which they razed to the ground.
The reason for UNESCO's miscarriage of its responsibilities is clear. Far from fulfilling its mission of protecting world heritage sites, since 1974 UNESCO has been a partner in one of the greatest cultural crimes in human history - the Palestinian and pan-Arab attempt to wipe Jewish history in the Land of Israel off the historical record.
And UNESCO's crimes in this area are unending. In 2009 it designated Jerusalem a "capital of Arab culture." In 2010, it designated Rachel's Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron as "Muslim mosques."
UNESCO's campaign against Jewish history is not limited to Israel. In 1995, it passed a resolution marking the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. Despite requests from Israel, the resolution made no mention of the Holocaust.
In December 2010, UNESCO published a report on the history of science in the Arab world. Its report listed the great Jewish doctor and rabbinic scholar Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon - Maimonides - as a Muslim renamed "Moussa ben Maimoun."
In light of UNESCO's virulently anti-Jewish policies and actions, it is not surprising that it cooperated with the PLO/PA's bid to achieve recognition of a state that is in a state of war with Israel.
MORE SURPRISING than UNESCO's behavior was the behavior of all but five EU member states. Aside from the Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden, all EU member states either voted in favor of the Palestinian membership application or abstained.
The reason this behavior is surprising is because the EU has made strengthening UN institutions and speeding up the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians to facilitate Palestinian independence the central aims of its foreign policy. And by supporting or failing to oppose the Palestinian membership bid, the Europeans undercut both aims.
UNESCO was weakened by the vote for two reasons. First, since US law bars the US administration from funding UN agencies that accept "Palestine" as a member nation outside the framework of a negotiated peace with Israel, in accepting "Palestine" UNESCO reduced its budget by the 22 percent covered by US contributions.
Second, by accepting the Palestinians as a member state, UNESCO undermined its legitimacy and organizational viability. Accepting "Palestine" represents a breach of the organization's charter. The charter stipulates that only states can be accepted as members.
Moreover, it represents a repudiation of the goals of UNESCO as laid out in its charter. Those goals involve among other things promoting cooperation in education and advancing the rule of law. As a recent report by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE) showed, PA textbooks remain imbued with Jew-hatred at all education levels.
By enabling this breach of the UNESCO charter, the Europeans made a mockery of UN rules and so weakened not just UNESCO but the UN system as a whole.
The Europeans' claim to support the cause of peace between Israel and the Palestinians was rendered hollow by their behavior at UNESCO. The peace process between Israel and the PLO/PA is predicated on the latter's commitment that a Palestinian state can arise only as a consequence of a peace treaty with Israel. By supporting the Palestinians' breach of this fundamental commitment at UNESCO, the Europeans diminished the possibility of achieving a negotiated peace that will lead to Palestinian statehood.
The Europeans' behavior at UNESCO indicates that just as UNESCO is willing to undermine its mission to harm Israel, so the Europeans are willing to undermine the declared goals of their foreign policy for the sake of harming Israel.
This state of affairs has important consequences for Israel. To date, Israel has placed fostering good relations with EU member states high on its list of priorities. In light of the Europeans' behavior at UNESCO, this ranking should be revised. The Europeans do not merit such high consideration by Israel.
Finally, the UNESCO vote exposed disturbing truths about US President Barack Obama's position on Israel. Obama has been widely praised by American Jewish leaders as well as by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for his announced commitment to veto the draft Security Council resolution recommending that the PLO/PA be granted full state membership at the UN. Obama's pledge - forced out of him by massive congressional pressure - is touted as proof of his commitment to the US alliance with Israel.
But Obama's response to the PLO/PA's bid for UNESCO membership tells a different story. In the lead up to the vote, the Obama administration went out of its way not to threaten UNESCO. It did not threaten to withdraw the US from the organization. Instead, just days before the vote, US Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter addressed the body and praised the "great things [that] have happened at UNESCO," over the past year. Kanter then announced the US's bid for reelection to UNESCO's executive board.
The administration did not attack the move as one that undermines chances of peace. It did not note that by endorsing the PA/PLO's decision to act unilaterally, UNESCO was making it all the more difficult for Israel and the Palestinians to achieve a negotiated peace deal. Rather, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland sufficed with claiming that the move was "regrettable," and "premature."
Administration officials did not make clear that in accordance with US law, all US funding to UNESCO would end if the Palestinian membership bid was approved. Rather administration officials joined forces with UN officials to lobby Congress to change the law.
As Claudia Rosett reported in Forbes on Tuesday, David Killion, the US ambassador to UNESCO, made what bordered on an apology for the US funding cut-off when he said, "We sincerely regret that the strenuous and well-intentioned efforts of many delegations to avoid this result fell short."
Killion added, "We pledge to continue our efforts to find ways to support and strengthen the important work of this vital organization."
So after UNESCO thumbed its nose at the US, after undermined its own mission, breached its own charter and seriously diminished chances of Palestinian peace with Israel by accepting "Palestine" as a member state, the Obama administration reacted with near groveling apologetics.
TO UNDERSTAND the full significance of the administration's behavior, it is important to contrast it with the administration's response to the Israeli government's decision in the aftermath of the UNESCO vote to approve the construction of housing for Jews in Jerusalem, Ma'aleh Adumim and Efrat. All of the housing units will be built in areas that will remain part of Israel even after a peace deal. And the administration knows this.
But speaking of the government's decision, a US official told Reuters that the administration is "deeply disappointed by the announcement."
"We continue to make clear to the [Israeli] government [that] unilateral actions such as these work against efforts to resume direct negotiations and do not advance the goal of a reasonable and necessary agreement between the parties."
So on the one hand, the Palestinians' move to abandon the peace process and UNESCO's support for their move is merely "regrettable" and "premature." But on the other hand, Israel's decision not to discriminate against Jewish property rights undermines efforts to resume peace talks and harms prospects for an agreement.
Since entering office, Netanyahu has repeatedly characterized Arab and leftist efforts to delegitimize Israel as "a strategic threat" to the state. In truth, he overstates the danger. Delegitimization is a political threat, not a strategic threat. Israel will not be destroyed by the UN or by professors at Oxford and Columbia or by trade unions in Norway.
But still it is a threat that Israel cannot ignore.
Since September 2009, citing the need to demonstrate the dishonesty of the delegitimizers' accusations against Israel, Netanyahu abandoned his lifelong opposition to a Palestinian state. He believed that Israel had to embrace the PLO/PA as a legitimate partner for peace in order to prove to the likes of Obama and his supporters that Israel has a right to exist. In the meantime, and in the face of Netanyahu's staggering concession, the PLO/PA abandoned the peace talks and escalated its political war to criminalize Israel and delegitimate it.
UNESCO's acceptance of "Palestine" demonstrates that Netanyahu's chosen policy is misguided.
By accepting the legitimacy of the Palestinian demand for statehood, Netanyahu indirectly conceded Israel's rights to Judea and Samaria and at a minimum placed its right to sole sovereignty over Jerusalem in question. In so doing, Israel gave the Palestinians' supporters at the UN, in Europe and at the White House no reason to reconsider their anti-Israel bias.
After all, with the Palestinians relentlessly asserting their rights, and Israel conceding its rights, why should anyone side with Israel?
In the end, the only way to defeat those who delegitimize Israel and deny our rights to our land, our nationhood and our history is to expose their corruption, and their malevolent, dishonest and hateful intentions towards the Jewish people and the Jewish state. That is, the only way to defeat the delegitimizers is to delegitimize them by proudly and consistently asserting Israel's historic and legal rights and the justice of our cause.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.