Trump Admin Stands With Israel Against U.N. Bid to Delegitimize Jewish State

Haley slams anti-Israel UNESCO vote that would designate historical sites as 'in danger'

Nikki Haley at the UN / AP
July 3, 2017

The Trump administration is taking aim at a United Nations body that is trying to deny Israel's sovereignty over holy sites in Jerusalem and the West Bank, according to a letter by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is set to vote this week on a resolution proclaiming that Israel has no sovereignty over Jerusalem, its capital city, and a holy site located in Hebron, which is part of the West Bank.

The U.S. and Israeli governments have long criticized UNESCO for waging what they claim is a politically motivated effort to use its power in an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state and remove key territories from its possession.

The United States cut taxpayer funding to UNESCO after the organization accepted Palestine as a member state, a move that violated U.S. law barring the funding of any U.N. group that skirts the peace process by prematurely admitting Palestine as a full member nation.

UNESCO's latest resolution—which was spearheaded by the Palestinians and is likely to be approved by the body's majority of Arab nations—seeks to add the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a religious holy site located in Hebron, to its list of World Heritage Sites in Danger, a designation insinuating Israel poses a danger to the site.

The Trump administration is urging nations to vote against the resolution, which it views as anti-Israel and politically driven.

It is the "strong opinion of the United States that the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, West Bank, not be added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Danger at the Organization's meeting in Krakow," Haley wrote to UNESCO's secretary general, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Free Beacon.

"The Tomb of the Patriarchs, which is sacred to three faiths, is under no immediate threat," according to Haley. "Such a designation risks undermining the seriousness such an assessment by UNESCO should have." Haley cited other sites in Congo, Libya, Iraq, and Syria as "under real and imminent threat of destruction today."

It is these sites that "demand UNESCO's full and immediate attention, which should not be wasted on this sort of symbolic action."

UNESCO's resolution is likely to harm efforts by the Trump administration to get the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, according to Haley.

"As the United States in engaged in trying to increase the chances of a peace deal that is in the best interests of both Israel and the Palestinians, this effort at UNESCO … is particularly ill-timed and unfortunate," Haley writes.

One senior Trump administration official familiar with Haley's efforts to stop the vote said the Palestinians are using UNESCO as a platform for Israel bashing.

"UNESCO would make better use of its time removing sites such as the Land of Olives and Vines, the Church of the Nativity and the Old City of Jerusalem from its list of World Heritage Sites In Danger—these designations make a mockery of the intent of the list, which is to draw attention to sites actually in peril," the officials said. "Monuments are being destroyed and terrorist groups are profiting off of antiquities trafficking, both of which are much more pressing issues."

UNESCO's actions are now interfering in the peace process, said the Trump administration official.

"We're at a unique moment when progress towards a resolution of the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians is possible, but it has to happen in the context of direct negotiations between the two parties, not through unilateral action at an international organization," the administration official said. "The politicization of UNESCO is deeply unfortunate and we hope all countries truly hoping for peace will oppose this counter-productive measure."