UK Foreign secretary Philip Hammond

UK Foreign secretary Philip Hammond

The foreign secretary has said a controversial UN resolution to reclassify Jewish holy sites “significantly beyond the parameters of reasonable discussion…at a particularly sensitive time in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories”. 

Philip Hammond’s statement comes in the wake of an “outrageous” Palestinian-proposed resolution to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) which sought to classify historic and cultural sites in Israel as Muslim sites – which the UK voted against.

In a letter addressed to Jewish Leadership Council chief executive Simon Johnson, the foreign secretary criticised the resolution – put forward to a UNESCO Executive Board meeting on Tuesday – and reassured the Jewish community that “the UK Government remains absolutely opposed to any attempt to delegitimise Israel.”

26 representatives voted in favour of the resolution to reclassify sites such as Rachel’s Tomb, in Bethlehem, and the Tomb of Patriarchs, in Hebron, as well as condemning Israeli archaeological excavations in Jerusalem’s Old City. 

The contentious resolution also stoked recent tensions in Israel with its condemnation of the “aggression and illegal measures taken against the freedom of worship and access of Muslims to Al-Aqsa Mosque and Israel’s attempts to break the status quo since 1967”.

Six representatives voted against, while 25 abstained. 

Though he praised the UK’s “principled” stance on the matter, Conservative Friends of Israel Chairman Sir Eric Pickles criticised the resolution as an attempt “to rewrite history and deny Judaism’s connects to some of its most holy sites” that had been “designed to be provocative.” 

The former cabinet minister, who was knighted earlier this year, said: “UNESCO would be better spending its time finding ways in which people of faith can worship in peace undisturbed”.