Australia defends UNESCO decision

The program culminates in a week-long study tour of Israel.

THE Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) last week defended its decision not to vote against a recent UNESCO resolution censuring Israel over its intention to reconstruct the bridge approach to the Mughrabi Gate in Jerusalem.

The gate, which is directly adjacent to the Western Wall plaza, opens onto the Temple Mount. An earthen rampart to the gate collapsed in 2005 and was replaced by a temporary wooden bridge. According to Israel, an agreement to replace the temporary bridge with a permanent structure had been signed between Israeli and Jordanian officials ahead of the vote.

Nimrod Barkan, an Israeli representative to UNESCO, told Ynet in the aftermath of the censure that Jordan had ambushed Israel with the UNESCO resolution, which failed to offer the slightest mention about the previous Israeli-Jordanian understandings.

While choosing not to vote against the censure, Australia joined Switzerland, Brazil and Mexico in voicing reservations about the resolution in the UNESCO meeting. Australia’s action, together with those other countries prevented the resolution from being considered adopted by consensus.

Australia has in the past been criticised for using UN votes to endear itself to certain states,
particularly Arab and African states, who will hold the key to deciding whether Australia is appointed as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2014-2015.

A spokesman for DFAT on Friday told The AJN, however, that Australia’s decision was based solely on the matters at hand.

“Previously in UNESCO World Heritage Committee meetings, decisions on Old Jerusalem have been negotiated and agreed between the relevant parties and then adopted by consensus without debate,” the spokesperson said. “Australia strongly believes this to be the best approach.

“Some elements of this year’s decision on Old Jerusalem were not agreed between the relevant parties.
“Australia disassociated itself from these elements, on the basis that they are best resolved through negotiation and agreement between the relevant parties.

“Australia will continue to strongly support efforts to achieve mutually acceptable outcomes which preserve the authenticity and integrity of the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls,” the spokesperson concluded.

AHRON SHAPIRO