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Cablegate: Mughrabi Gate at Unesco 182nd Executive Board

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UNCLAS UNESCO PARIS FR 001312

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TAGS: PREL UNESCO JO IS SCUL KWBG
SUBJECT: MUGHRABI GATE AT UNESCO 182ND EXECUTIVE BOARD

1. (SBU) Summary: For the first time in recent memory, the issue of
the reconstruction of the ascent to the Mughrabi Gate of Jerusalem's
Temple Mount registered only as a minor blip on the radar screen
during the just completed 182nd Executive Board at UNESCO. Although
the Jordanians arrived seemingly determined to raise a fuss, they
quickly retreated and allowed the issue to be settled quietly.
While we were lucky to avoid the subject this time around, it will
surely be raised again, either at the upcoming General Conference or
at the World Heritage General Assembly next month. End summary.

ONE PLAN, TWO PLANS

2. (SBU) The last round of discussions between Israel and Jordan
regarding Mughrabi Gate were held during the World Heritage
Committee meeting in Seville in June, 2009, its proper forum in the
UNESCO context, after discussion of the subject at the
Organization's last - Executive Board meetings. The Israelis had
indicated their willingness to allow the Jordanians to visit the
site and perhaps even take measurements, provided that their design
proposals would be incorporated into a single design plan that
Israel would build.

WORKING ON AN OPENING

3. (SBU) Since the July meeting, the Israelis have prepared a new
design plan, which they have shared with the U.S. This plan appears
to integrate elements of the Jordanian plan with the original
Israeli design. However, the Jordanians have held firm to their
belief that they have the right to submit a second plan to World
Heritage Committee which should then choose between competing
Israeli and Jordanian designs. The Israelis, in the meantime, have
sent UNESCO a series of documents and letters, detailing their
bilateral discussions with Jordan, including their offers of further
visits to the site. Jordan has reportedly refused to accept these
offered visits unless it can take measurements intended to
facilitate completion of a second plan. Israel for its part is
steadfastly opposed to a second plan and has not permitted Jordan to
take measurements for this purpose.

4 (SBU) At the last minute before the Executive Board began, Jordan
decided to submit a draft decision on Mughrabi Gate, diverging
significantly from the Secretariat's proposed text and trying to
strengthen its position that would ultimately permit them to submit
a separate design plan.

JORDAN BACKS DOWN

5. (SBU) The initial language proposed by Jordan was, according to
the Israelis, completely unacceptable, and led them to believe that
Jordan was planning to use the Executive Board as the platform for a
final rejection of the Israeli planning process. Tibi Schlosser,
who flew in from Jerusalem to negotiate in the absence of an Israeli
ambassador to UNESCO, said privately that his government was ready
to walk away and deal with the consequences later.

6. (SBU) Jordan and Israel held several direct meetings in the
presence of a junior Secretariat official. Neither side sought a
high level mediator this time, and there were many fewer appeals for
U.S. intervention than there normally are.

7. (SBU) The Jordanians suddenly withdrew their more strident
language, and ultimately agreed to a version that comprised only
small changes to the original "neutral" Secretariat text. The U.S.
delegation did not get involved in any of the talks unlike previous
discussions of this issue at Executive Boards.

FEARFUL EGYPT?

8. (SBU) While we do not know why the Jordanians pulled back, we
suspect they did so when they realized that Executive Board members
were completely preoccupied with the extremely close race to replace
retiring UNESCO Director-General Matsuura. Member States simply
would not have tolerated the injection of a bitter Middle East
controversy into the Board's already difficult discussions. While
we have no specific proof, we suspect that the Egyptians made this
clear to the Jordanians. A row over Jerusalem could well have
played poorly among the African and Asian delegations and damaged
the prospects of Egypt's Director-General candidate, Farouk Hosni.

9. (SBU) It is also possible that the Egyptians, confident of
winning the D-G race, indicated to Jordan that the Secretariat
position would be more amenable to the Arab side after the voting
was over. In any case, the Jordanians made the decision to back off
of what initially was a hard-line stance.

10. (SBU) Comment: We may have escaped this time due to special
circumstances, but the Mughrabi Gate issue is certain to come back
and with great emotion, unless Jordan and Israel can make progress
in resolving the one plan/two plan issue in their bilateral
discussions. It will be almost impossible for UNESCO on its own to
bring the sides to resolve this. We may not have long to wait.
Jordan might try to raise the subject during the upcoming General
Conference and/or during the World Heritage General Assembly next
month. End comment. KILLION

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