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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slams UNESCO decision to classify ancient Jewish holy site as mosque, saying ‘historical facts should not be distorted in the name of politics.’
November 09, 2010 (KATAKAMI / HAARETZ) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held talks late Monday on the stalled Middle East peace talks and the planned Israeli withdrawal from a site on the Lebanese border.
The two issued a readout of their meeting at UN headquarters in New York, according to which the “secretary general and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed the ongoing efforts to move the Middle East peace process forward.”
“The secretary general emphasized that it was vital to break the current diplomatic stalemate, resume negotiations and produce results,” the statement said.
Peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have been stalled since September, when an Israeli moratorium on settlement activity ended. The Palestinians want the freeze extended to continue talks, and Washington has unsuccessfully tried to convince Netanyahu to do so. US President Barack Obama oversaw the relaunching of the direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in early September, only to see them falter once the settlement freeze expired on the 26th of the month.
Ban said he expressed concern at the resumption of the Israeli settlement activities and recent announcements of further settlement construction in East Jerusalem.
The two leaders also discussed the “current proposals on the issue of Ghajar,” a reference to Israel’s plan to end its occupation of the village with 2,200 inhabitants on the Lebanon-Israel border.
Haaretz had reported that Netanyahu planned to announce a withdrawal from Ghajar and the return of control of the village to Lebanon. The planned withdrawal would comply with UN Security Council resolution 1701, which ordered a ceasefire in the fighting between Hezbollah and the Israeli Defense Forces in 2006.
The two leaders also reportedly “reviewed the regional situation, including Iran,” in addition to Ban’s urging that Israel “ease the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza.”
Netanyahu also referred to a recent controversial ruling by the UN’s cultural agency, according to which West Bank heritage sites holy to both Jews and Muslims, such as Rachel’s Tomb, would be considered Palestinian.
The ancient tomb, which lies between Jerusalem and the nearby Palestinian-controlled city of Bethlehem, is traditionally regarded as the burial place of a biblical matriarch and is holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Speaking during his meeting with the UN chief, the PM said that the “the profound link between the Jewish people and the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb had existed for close to 4,000 years.”
“Over a billion people know of this bond and it is documented in the Bible,” Netanyahu said, adding that “historical facts should not be distorted in the name of politics. That would only injure the UN’s stature and the way serious people around the world regard it.”
Last week, Israel said it would reduce cooperation with the United Nations’ cultural watchdog following the classification of Rachel’s Tomb as a mosque.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Israel would not cooperate with UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – in administering five protected sites in Palestinian territory as a dispute that has escalated in recent weeks came to a head.
Speaking with journalists in Jerusalem, Ayalon blamed the Palestinians for influencing the UN to side against Israel.
“This is another attempt at de-legitimization by the Palestinian Authority,” he said.