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Israel to submit official withdrawal letter to UNESCO after Christmas

Netanyahu's visit to Brussels comes after he met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Sunday.
EMMANUEL DUNAND, EMMANUEL DUNAND (AFP)
Netanyahu announced the intention to leave UNESCO last autumn, now wants to follow through

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has requested that Israel's envoy to UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) draft an official withdrawal letter from the organization, to be submitted after the Christmas holiday, according to several Israeli media reports.

By submitting the letter, Israeli envoy Carmel Shama-Hacohen would trigger exit procedures which would lead Israel out of the UN body by the end of 2018.

Speaking to Channel 10, however, an Israeli official said it would scrap exit procedures if UNESCO were to change attitude towards Israel over the next year.

"UNESCO has broken records of hypocrisy, incitement and lies against Israel and the Jewish people, while polluting its noble core principles with politicization and diplomatic terrorism that sometimes bordered on anti-Semitism,” said Shama-Hacohen earlier on Friday, explaining why Israel decided to follow up to Netanyahu's first pledge to leave the organization last autumn.

If Israel was to actually go forward with the withdrawal, it would be a second blow to the organization after the withdrawal of the United States.

“I obviously regret their departure … but this ’empty chair politics’ is not sustainable because the United States is also affected by everything that UNESCO does,” said UNESCO head Audrey Azoulay to the Associated Press, commenting on the US boycott.

UNESCO has a long relationship with Israel, which officially joined the organization in 1949 and was expelled from it in 1974 because of archaeological excavations it carried out on the Temple Mount that were not welcomed by the UN, Ynet reports.

Five years later, Israel again became a member of UNESCO after the United States threatened to stop the transfer of funds to the organization unless the Jewish state was allowed to rejoin.

In 2010, UNESCO determined that Rachel's Tomb, in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, was a mosque and called upon the Israeli government to remove the site along with the Tomb of the Patriarchs from its list of national heritage sites.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said at the time: "If the places where the fathers and mothers of the Jewish people are buried thousands of years ago are not part of the heritage of the Jewish people, then what is a heritage site?"

In October 2011, the Palestinian Authority was accepted as a full member of UNESCO by a majority of 107 countries against only 14 opposed, while 52 abstained. In light of the vote, Israel and the United States criticized UNESCO harshly, and the latter started to reconsider its contributions to it.

More recently, Israel has clashed with the UNESCO over resolutions that questioned the Jewish State's connection to the ancient holy sites the Tomb of Patriarchs in Hebron and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

The request by Netanyahu to draft an official letter for the withdrawal comes after days of heightened tension between Israel and the UN.

After the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital by US President Trump, both the United Nations' Security Council and the General Assembly voted on resolutions to reject the move. The former was vetoed by the United States, even though all other 14 countries voted in favor.

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