The executive board of Unesco, the United Nations culture and education agency, has voted in favour of a resolution criticising Israel for actions that have “altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem”.
Twenty-two countries voted for the resolution - which has no legal impact on the situation on the ground - and 10, including Britain and the United States, voted against. Twenty-three countries abstained.
Intense diplomatic pressure reduced the numbers of countries voting for the resolution, even though the Arab countries that submitted it had agreed to alter previous versions that failed to mention the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. This resolution made explicit “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions”.
Although Israeli diplomats criticised the resolution, they were satisfied that despite its relatively soft tone the number of countries voting in favour was much smaller than in the past.
Germany, which last week was reported to be in favour of a compromise draft following its diplomatic spat with Israel over a meeting between its foreign minister and left-wing Israeli NGOs, was among the countries voting against.
Most of the countries voting in favour of the resolution were Muslim-majority nations. However, the Israeli government will be disappointed to see countries with which it has improved relations recently - including Russia and China, as well as Chad, which only two months ago announced it was resuming diplomatic relations with Israel – also voting in favour.
Two European nations were also sources of disappointment. Sweden was only Western country to vote in favour, and France, which Israel hoped would be voting against, abstained.
The resolution passed on Israel’s Independence Day. At the annual reception for the diplomatic corps, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that conversations he had had with world leaders and the efforts of Israel’s diplomats meant “the number of states supporting this absurd Unesco resolution is shrinking”. In an earlier speech, he said that “there is no nation in the world that Jerusalem is holy and important to than the Jewish people”.