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Israel Expects UNESCO to Change its Policy following Selection of Azoulay | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Audrey Azoulay. PHOTO AFP

Tel Aviv – Israel will not follow Washington’s steps in leaving the UNESCO, saying it expects positive change towards Tel Aviv following the selection of Audrey Azoulay as chief of the organization, according to political sources in Tel Aviv.

The sources indicated that Israel was surprised by the US decision on Thursday to quit United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Four senior Israeli and American officials said there was no coordination with Israel in the days leading to the decision, adding that the Trump administration did not inform Israel.

Over the past few months, Israeli and US diplomats in New York and Paris discussed the possibility of US leaving the UNESCO during bilateral talks, according to senior Israeli officials.

Officials added that the issue was discussed during US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley’s visit to Israel in June, but at no point did US officials tell Israel a decision had been made to withdraw.

In spite of close relations between Israel and Trump’s administration, the incident exposed lack of coordination between the two countries.

Senior Israeli officials confirmed that Israel learned of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s decision from the website of Foreign Policy very late Wednesday night.

Following the announcement, Israeli diplomats at the embassy in Washington and UN’s delegation asked US counterparts for clarification.

Thursday morning Israel was told that in a few hours the State Department would announce the US departure from UNESCO.

Senior US officials confirmed that Washington did not inform Israel of its decision.

The process that led to the decision to withdraw was an internal US issue and was not discussed with any non-US governmental entity prior to the secretary’s decision, according to a senior official.

Actually, even after the decision was made, Tillerson did not inform Israel. He only reported the decision to UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova. Only after the announcement was published in the media, the US informed its allies including Israel.

The surprise in Jerusalem and the fact that the decision was made during the Simhat Torah holiday, were the main reason behind Israel’s rather strange announcement on Thursday night that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had directed the Foreign Ministry “to prepare” for the possibility of Israel leaving UNESCO.

Israel had no information about the timing of the US decision, and that is why there had been no real discussions with the prime minister on the subject. Netanyahu’s instructions were the result of a conference call held with a few of his advisers and senior Foreign Ministry officials.

However, with the selection of France’s former Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay as director of UNESCO, Israeli officials are leaning towards cooperating with her.

Azoulay is the daughter of Jewish adviser of King of Morocco Andre Azoulay who is also close friends of Israel’s Envoy to the UNESCO Carmel Shama.