In what might be regarded as another sign that times have changed at the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, its executive board has praised Israel for urban improvements in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The U.N. agency, long considered a bastion of anti-Israel sentiment, expressed satisfaction at improvements carried out by “Israeli occupation authorities.”
The Israeli ambassador to the international body said it was the first time the board had departed from its traditional condemnation of Israel about Jerusalem.
“It definitely is a sign of a change for the better,” said Eliezer Palmor. An expression of satisfaction might in itself appear insignificant, he said, “but it should not be overlooked.”
The agency nevertheless fell back on its more traditional perspective in its statement on Jerusalem.
It said it had to “deplore the fact that the occupied holy city has undergone modifications resulting from archaeological excavations and the building of new neighborhoods, as well as demographic and environmental changes which irreversibly disturb the balance of the site, one of the most beautiful cityscapes in the world.”
But a shift in the anti-Western and anti-Israel tone of the agency has occurred following the departure in 1987 of Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow of Senegal as its director-general and his replacement by Federico Mayor Zaragoza of Spain.
That shift was signaled last June when the agency cooperated with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Holocaust remembrance and Jewish advocacy group, in sponsoring an international conference in Paris on anti-Semitism.
Meanwhile, universities in the administered territories will benefit from a new UNESCO project to upgrade their academic standards through cooperation with European institutions of higher learning.
The U.N. agency will provide start-up money and seek international partners to fund chairs in areas of “particular importance” for Palestinian universities.
They include business administration, environmental protection, agriculture, science, engineering, economics and modern European languages. The project involves six institutions of higher learning in the West Bank and Gaza.
Participating European universities are in Spain, Portugal, Poland, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands.
An agreement to launch the project was signed last month by UNESCO and the steering committee of the Palestinian European Academic Cooperation in Education.