Statement by Ambassador David Killion in Connection with the Agreement on Cultural Heritage in the Middle East

When President Obama visited the Middle East last month, he insisted that “peace is possible” but also challenged us to “create the change we want to see.”  Here, we have met his challenge by overcoming politicization at UNESCO.

Today, this organization has accomplished what no one else could.  In the spirit of dialogue and cooperation that is at the heart of UNESCO’s mission, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians, working together, have found a new way to approach age-old challenges and to ensure the preservation of our shared cultural history in the Middle East.  The parties have agreed on a UNESCO mission to the action plan sites in Jerusalem, scheduled for May 2013.  This UNESCO mission will report its findings to the World Heritage Committee for its meeting in June

The agreement to avoid divisive votes on resolutions at this Executive Board meeting and the upcoming World Heritage meeting is a welcome approach to improving communication and trust. Overall, it represents a critical step forward towards depoliticizing UNESCO and signals a major shift towards a more constructive approach to cultural heritage issues.

I was delighted to have partnered with the Russian ambassador to help facilitate these negotiations.  Russia showed tremendous leadership at the last Executive Board in October 2012 when it moved to adjourn the five country-specific resolutions targeting Israel.  In doing so, it broke the ossified patterns of political voting against Israel that had tarnished this organization’s reputation and returned it to positive, consensus-driven action.

Great credit also goes to Director-General Irina Bokova for her leadership in brokering this unprecedented agreement, which builds off of the momentum created at the previous Executive Board to produce a tangible outcome.

This encouraging response to fulfilling our sacred duty to promote peace is a great stepping stone for UNESCO’s fulfillment of its mandate.

**On April 23, 2013, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians announced an unprecedented agreement regarding cultural heritage issues at UNESCO. 

In the past, UNESCO’s Executive Board has repeatedly adopted non-consensus resolutions on cultural heritage in the Middle East that targeted Israel and were thus opposed by the United States.  This Executive Board avoided such divisive votes in favor of an agreement, negotiated with the help of UNESCO’s Director General, Russia and the United States and accepted by all parties, whereby Israel will accept a technical mission to the Action Plan sites and participate in a technical meeting on the Mughrabi Ascent.  Both the UNESCO mission and the technical meeting are scheduled to take place prior to the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee on June 16-27, 2013.