Cablegate: (Sbu) Unesco -- Information Meeting On Technical Mission

Lucia A Keegan 03/20/2007 09:48:25 AM From DB/Inbox: Lucia A Keegan






DE RUEHFR #1066/01 0781633
O 191633Z MAR 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Summary and background: Six Arab state members of UNESCO
have requested an extraordinary and unprecedented special meeting of
the UNESCO Executive Board to discuss Israeli archaeological work on
the ramp leading to the al-Mughrabi Gate on the Temple Mount. At
the invitation of the Israeli government, UNESCO's Director General
dispatched a technical mission to report on conditions at this
sensitive World Heritage site. The mission's report was issued on
March 12 and is available on the UNESCO website -

2. (U) Summary and background continued. In a surprisingly brief
and low-key information meeting on March 19 for UNESCO delegations,
the technical mission reported that while the digging had caused no
damage, they recommended that the Israelis halt work until there are
consultations with other concerned parties like the Government of
Jordan and until there is a clear plan for continued work on the
site. There was no clear sign about what steps the Israelis might
take next in advancing the repair and reconstruction of the ramp to
the Temple Mount. Both the Israeli and Palestinian representatives
(the Palestinian observer heads the Arab group at UNESCO) used
measured language, helping to keep the tone of the meeting calm
while conveying different messages. Delegates respected the
Director General's request not to turn the information meeting into
a debate on whether a special session of the Executive Board should
be held, and it remains unclear what decision will be taken by the
Executive Board's Chairman following the Executive Board Bureau
meeting scheduled for Wednesday, 21 March. US Ambassador Oliver sits
on the Bureau. End summary.

3. (U) Today's information meeting presided over by Director
General Matsuura was held to review the report on the UNESCO
Mission to Jerusalem related to the archaeological work undertaken
on the access ramp to the Mughrabi Gate, 27 Feb-2 March, 2007.
Matsuura began by explaining that the Old City of Jerusalem was
placed on the World Heritage List after being nominated by Jordan,
and is also on the World Heritage "Danger" list. He briefly went
over the timeline, following the start of excavation work by the
Israelis, which led to an increase in tensions in early February,
prompting his decision to send a technical mission to assess the
nature of the work in progress around the Mughrabi Gate. The
technical mission's report was received by the Director General on
their return, and published on 12 March.

4. (U) The Director General said that the report, while easing some
fears about the work and the state of the ramp, also highlighted
some problems that he said UNESCO must address urgently. Matsuura
said "given UNESCO's mandates, we cannot afford to fail," making it
clear he understands the importance of UNESCO both staking its claim
to cultural issues within the UN system, yet doing its best to keep
the issue from becoming politicized, noting that that is the General
Assembly's work in New York. He also twice referred to consultations
he has had on this issue with Secretary General Ban.

5. (U) Assistant Director General for Culture, Francoise Riviere
added that no work has been done inside the Haram es-Sharif, and
that the work did not threaten the Al-Aqsa Mosque in any way. She
explained that the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) had described
the work being done as "preventative archeology", and said that they
reported the work could last up to six months. At this point it is
not clear whether the work will simply fortify the ramp, or if a
bridge will be built. Riviere noted that the report states clearly
that the technical mission had found that the work does respect
professional norms. The current work underway, according to the IAA
is to maintain the solidity of the structure.

6. (U) Riviere called for the work now underway to stop, and called
for consultations among all concerned parties. She then noted the
five recommendations proposed by the technical mission:

- The Government of Israel should be asked to comply with its
obligations regarding archeological excavations and heritage
conservation in World Heritage sites such as the Old City of
Jerusalem and, in particular, with Decision 30 COM.34 adopted by the
World Heritage Committee in Vilnius in July 2006 on this matter;

- The Government of Israel should be asked to stop immediately the
archeological excavations, given that the excavations that had been
undertaken were deemed to be sufficient for the purpose of assessing
the structural conditions of the pathway;

- The Government of Israel should then clearly define the final
design of the access structure, whose principal aim should be to
restore the Mughrabi pathway without any major change to its
structure and shape, in order to maintain the values of authenticity
and integrity of the site. A clear work plan thereon should be
communicated to the World Heritage Committee in the shortest
possible time;

- The Government of Israel should be asked to engage immediately a
consultation process with all concerned parties, in particular the
authorities of the Waqf and of Jordan, the latter having signed a
peace agreement on 26 October 1994, and agree upon a plan of action
before taking any further action and decision thereon;

-This process should be supervised by an international team of
experts coordinated by UNESCO and involving in particular structural
engineers, specialized in archeological consolidation works, in
order to ensure the most appropriate solution for the restoration of
the Mughrabi pathway.

7. (U) The Palestinian observer to UNESCO, Elias Sanbar, spoke
first, on behalf of the Arab Group. He said that the key concepts
that are guiding the group's actions and proposals are "urgency" and
"status quo". Calling the matter a "complex political situation,"
Sanbar said that it is important to remember that East Jerusalem is
an occupied territory, and that this fact cannot be removed from the
character of this place. He also noted that Jerusalem is part of
joint agreement concluded between Israel and the Palestinians at
Oslo. He said that each and every time a change is made in
Jerusalem, it alters future negotiations on the final territorial
status of the city.

8. (U) Sanbar also noted Item 6 from the New Delhi Accords that,
according to him, says parties shall refrain from undertaking any
archeological excavations in occupied territories. He added that
Jerusalem must be maintained in its present state. He asked that
the Mission's five recommendations "assume concrete form" and be

9. (U) Sanbar then requested that an "extraordinary" session of the
Executive Board be held, so that delegates could proceed to discuss
these issues. Sanbar then mentioned the planned museum project, the
"House of Tolerance" that he said is expected to be built on the
oldest Arab cemetery in Jerusalem. Sanbar went on to say that he
had visited Jerusalem and came back with a sense of urgency, given
what he saw as a deteriorating situation on the ground, which he
described as "very worrisome." He also said that he felt he had
confirmation that the Israelis would not take any decision without
consultations with the Jordanians.

10. (U) Sanbar said that given the succession of problems, he is
convinced that of the need for a special session of the Executive
Board to have an in-depth discussion on the Old City of Jerusalem.
He went on to say that the call for a special session was endorsed
by the Secretary General of the Arab League and Arab Foreign

11. (U) In his closing comments, Sanbar said that he understood that
UNESCO is not the forum for resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict or
the future of Jerusalem. He said, however, that he requests three

- Clarify and review the state of the site;

- Protection. Consider joint efforts to protect the site, owing to
these repeated problems;

- Prevention. Ensure a constructive spirit and dialogue and not
worry about politicization.

12. (U) The Director General then intervened saying that UNESCO must
accept the political status quo, as we are not to engage in debates
on political issues. He added that that is why he is in constant
touch with New York on this subject. Matsuura then said that the
issue of whether or not to hold a special session of the Executive
Board is a matter for decision by the Chairman of the Executive
Board who was scheduled to arrive in Paris later in the day.
Finally, Matsuura specifically asked that delegates not use this
information meeting to debate the question of whether a special
session of the Executive Board should or should not be held.

13. (U) The Israeli ambassador, David Kornbluth, then spoke,
thanking the DG for his efforts and the Palestinian delegate for the
"tenor of his remarks, if not the entirety of the content."

14. (U) Kornbluth noted that the technical mission had been "invited
to Israel" in the spirit of diplomacy, and given Israel's policy of
complete transparency on this issue.

15. (U) Kornbluth added that the report confirms that the original
concerns regarding the archeological work at the site were
unwarranted, and reassured the room that Israel intends to continue
to fulfill its commitments under the 1972 World Heritage Convention,
"as it has done in the past." He also said that consultations are
now going on in Jerusalem "on a wide basis" (though he would not say
who was consulting), and that he looks forward to discussions on the
subject at the World Heritage Committee meeting in New Zealand.
Kornbluth added that "this is a matter of utmost sensitivity for the
parties concerned", and that the World Heritage Committee meeting in
New Zealand "is the way forward."

16. (U) The Indian ambassador spoke on behalf of the Asia-Pacific
group at UNESCO (ASPAC) expressing concern about possible damage to
the Outstanding Universal Value of the site, and asked the World
Heritage Center to send a technical mission to investigate.

17. (U) She noted that she welcomes that fact that Israel says a
consultation process is starting. Mukherjee also asked that
Francisco Bandarin, director of the World Heritage Center provide
details for an "action plan" that is being developed for the Old
City. Finally, Mukherjee expressed solidarity with the Arab Group
but, notably, said that India (note: not ASPAC) supported the call
for a special session of the Executive Board.

18. (U) Bandarin spoke briefly, noting that the World Heritage
Center is now finalizing an action plan which will be submitted to
the World Heritage Committee in June. The DG promised to send out
more information on it when it is ready. It has four key elements:

- Detailed and complete map of monuments and housing located in

- 20 project profiles and sheets;

- Manual for housing conservation;

- Scheme for micro-financing for housing renovation.

19. (U) The ambassador from the Dominican Republic intervened
briefly to say that UNESCO has an important role to play which is
above and beyond the purely political aspects of such an issue.

20. (U) The German ambassador, speaking on behalf of the 27 European
Union states, welcomed the report of the technical mission. He said
that the EU aligns itself with the report's recommendations and said
that there must be further debate at UNESCO on this issue, without
specifically commenting on the call for a special session of the
Executive Board.

21. (U) Gabon's ambassador's said that the Africa Group supports the
technical mission to Jerusalem, but added that she "won't talk about
our position regarding the holding of the special session."

22. (SBU) Comment: The Director General chaired what had the
potential to be a long and turbulent meeting with a surprisingly
firm hand. The Palestinian offered an appealing argument
undoubtedly designed to bring undecided delegates on board for the
Arab Group's call for a special session of the Executive Board. The
Israeli tried to kick the problem back to where many think it should
be dealt with - in New Zealand at the next World Heritage Committee
meeting in June. At the same time, the timing of the Executive
Board Chairman Zhang's return to Paris (for an Executive Board
Bureau meeting on Wednesday) and the support of the US, Russian,
Japan, and other heavyweights could potentially win the day with a
combination of strong arguments and a Chinese strategy to run out
the clock. End comment.

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