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Source: United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
23 April 2007

Interview with H. E. Mr Elias Wadih Sanbar, Ambassador, Permanent Observer, Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to UNESCO, concerning the UNESCO Executive Board's decision on Israeli archeological excavations at the Mughrabi ascent in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Could you please give us your reaction to the Board's decision on archaeological excavations at the Mughrabi ascent in the Old City of Jerusalem?

I believe this is the best possible compromise. We have reached a solution based on consensus, obtained the approval of all parties concerned, and I think this is the maximum we could attain. It’s very important, even if on both sides no one is really satisfied. There is always an element of frustration in this kind of exercise. But we have gained something: the issue of Israel has been debated for the first time and that’s extremely important; we have reached a solution; and beyond the exercise of consensus, we now have a text, which if it is applied and followed up properly, can lead to creating a procedure on the ground. And that’s fundamental.

What is effect of this decision going to be on the ground?

Now we have the tools to develop a procedure. But the procedure isn’t in the text. It’s in the reality. Therefore, the effects depend a great deal on what we will do, and not only on the text that we agreed upon. It’s therefore an open question. It’s also a challenge. We have to take action now and move forward. But for the first time we have a base, we have a text that allows us to move forward precisely. We are acting within a framework of consensus.

Does this spell the start of a solution to disagreements regarding the preservation of the World Heritage Site of the Old City of Jerusalem?

We have to be realistic and modest. To resolve contradictions in the absolute is a much more complicated task. There are many elements that interfere in the situation. But it can make a contribution, and beyond the site of Jerusalem, it can in a certain way be exemplary – showing how through the case of Jerusalem, we can address other conflictual cases, other difficult situations. Jerusalem is a specific case and at the same time it’s a symbolic one, in other words a more general case that can serve as an example.

How would you describe UNESCO's role, or contribution, to improving cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians?

UNESCO played a very positive role. I speak as the representative of Palestine. As far as I’m concerned, since I’ve held the post, the relationship is extremely positive and I really have no complaints. I must honestly admit that every time it was possible to help us, we received the help we had requested. I am therefore more than satisfied, today, about the relations between my delegation and UNESCO. We are listened to, and that’s very important. You know, unlike other delegations, we are a delegation of people who are under occupation and in exile. We are thus a very particular case. And it’s very important in these cases to be listened to. UNESCO can only create a positive atmosphere; it isn’t a stakeholder in the conflict. It plays its role by creating a positive atmosphere that facilitates relations. The rest depends much more on the relations between the Israeli party and the Palestinian party, as well as the Arab parties who in this particular case are entirely concerned by this conflict, because the Palestinian cause is also the Arab cause.

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