Israel said it would follow the U.S. and withdraw from the UNESCO in complaining "bias" against Israel. (Web Pic)
JERUSALEM, Oct. 15 (Xinhua) -- In a hasty announcement late last week, Israel said it would be following the United States and withdrawing from the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which is seen as the culmination of a rocky relationship Israel has had with the organization, especially in the last six years.
The move, expected to be completed by the end of 2018, was announced by the Israeli prime minister's office after the U.S. administration said it was withdrawing from the international body citing the need for "fundamental reform" in the body and "continuing anti-Israeli bias."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the U.S. decision by instructing the foreign ministry to prepare a parallel withdrawal.
UNESCO was the first UN body to recognize the state of Palestine in 2011. It was a success for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who failed in an earlier bid to become a full member of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
Since then, there has been a series of events and decisions at UNESCO that have caused Israel unease in the international arena.
Although Israeli media has reported that officials were not given a heads up on the U.S. decision to withdraw, the Israeli approval was quick to come.
"When you take advantage of the dramatic momentum of the U.S. withdrawal, it's much smarter than another timing which people may not have noticed," said Ronen Hoffman from the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya.
"The Israeli message is that Israel is not alone, not isolated. It has an alliance with a strong power," he adds.
In one of its most controversial resolutions, UNESCO voted a year ago for a resolution belittling Jewish ties to several holy sites in Jerusalem. While emphasizing Muslim ties to the places in the city, it downplayed the importance which the Jewish faith attaches to the same exact sites.
The original document referred to the site known by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount only by its Muslim name.
The resolution was later amended to include Jewish names of sites.
Jerusalem is at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
One of UNESCO's biggest contributions is its classifications of world heritage sites -- this has impact on tourism and economy.
Ron Prosor, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, said to an Israeli news website Walla that "UNESCO has been abducted." He spoke hours after the Israeli decision.
Israel has been struggling with a tainted international image and is subject to continued criticism over its policies towards the Palestinians.
In the past, UNESCO has criticized Israel for limiting Muslim access to holy sites.
Israel captured the eastern part of the city, the holy sites within that area, in the 1967 Mideast War. The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the capital of their future state.
Speaking to Israeli radio station Kan Reshet Bet after the United States and Israeli announcements, Israeli ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen said he was "very satisfied" with the decision.
"The great power (the United States) is taking actions that have great meaning for Israel," he said.