The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted on Sunday to recognize ancient ruins near Jericho as a “World Heritage Site in Palestine.”
The Tell es-Sultan site contains prehistoric ruins dating back to the ninth millennium BCE, including evidence of one of humanity’s first-known villages.
Jericho, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, is located in an area of Judea currently under full Palestinian Authority control.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the move constituted “another sign of the Palestinians’ cynical use of UNESCO and politicization of the organization,” and vowed “to change the distorted decisions that have been made.”
The P.A., which gained non-member observer state status at the United Nations in 2012, welcomed the designation, with P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas stating that the decision “testifies to the authenticity and history of the Palestinian people.
“The State of Palestine is committed to preserving this unique site for the benefit of mankind,” he added.
The vote came as an Israeli delegation attended the U.N. World Heritage Committee meeting, marking the first-ever public appearance by Israeli officials in Saudi Arabia.
Prof. Eugene Kontorovich, director of international law at the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum, said the UNESCO move “ethnically cleanses Jews from the history of ancient Jericho, even as the Jews worldwide were busy celebrating Rosh Hoshana, one of the holiest days of the year.
“[UNESCO] also turned a blind eye to the P.A.’s ongoing destruction of Second Temple-era antiquities in the area. The United States had quit the organization over its chronic antisemitism and rejoined just a few months ago, which is obviously a mistake,” Kontorovich added.
The Biden administration in June decided to rejoin UNESCO, after President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the agency citing its anti-Israel bias.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in October 2017 that Israel would withdraw its membership in the organization at the same time as the U.S.
Dan Illouz, a Likud parliamentarian and member of the Knesset’s Land of Israel Caucus, earlier this month sent a letter to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay asking her to prevent the development.
“The Palestinian Authority works systematically to erase all ties of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel,” Illouz wrote.
A decision to assign Jericho to “Palestine” would “constitute a blatant interference by UNESCO in a conflict in which it is not its role to intervene. Jericho is first and foremost a city of biblical significance. Blurring this fact is an insult to millions of Jews and Christians all over the world. It is our duty to stop the P.A.’s subversion and insist on our right to our land,” he continued.
In 2016, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee registered the Tomb of the Patriarchs, located in Hebron, in the name of the “State of Palestine” on its “List of World Heritage in Danger.”
UNESCO passed 47 resolutions in 2009-2014, 46 of which were directed against Israel and one of which criticized Syria.