“This is an important message to Israel that it must end its occupation and recognise the Palestinian state and Jerusalem as its capital with its sacred Muslim and Christian sites,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest issues of the decades-long Palestinian struggle for independence.
Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is the third-holiest site in Islam. It is located in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed following its invasion in 1967 – in a move never recognised by the international community – as part of its subsequent military occupation of the West Bank.
Jewish settlers and Zionist organisations have called for complete Jewish control over the mosque compound.
Jewish groups refer to the site as the “Temple Mount” and their increased incursions into the mosque compound have continuously led to Palestinian protests across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli military and armed settler incursions have resulted in Palestinian deaths and injuries in recent years in particular. Muslim access to the religious site has also been tremendously limited by the army.
Israel and the US denounced the UNESCO resolution.
“Israel is furious about this resolution by UNESCO because it essentially nullifies any Jewish connection to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound,” said Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from the occupied East Jerusalem.
“The resolution does assert Jerusalem is holy to the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity – but there is a special section in the resolution that says al-Aqsa Mosque compound is sacred only to Muslims. This is what infuriated the Israeli government.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said in a statement on Thursday that UNESCO has lost its legitimacy by adopting this resolution.
“The theatre of the absurd at UNESCO continues and today the organisation adopted another delusional decision which says that the people of Israel have no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall,” he said.
Palestinian critics argue that Israel uses the Jewish connection to Jerusalem as a cover for its political policies that have displaced Palestinians from their homes.
“The present struggle over al-Aqsa is the consequence of Israel’s use of religious dogma as a cover for its violent settler-colonialism and ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank since 1967,” Ali Abunimah, editor of The Electronic Intifada website, wrote for Al Jazeera.
“Temple groups, funded by the state and the occupation municipality in Jerusalem, are actively agitating for the construction of a Jewish ‘Third Temple’ in place of al-Aqsa Mosque.
“These are the groups behind the increasingly aggressive incursions into al-Aqsa, under the guise of seeking more access for Jews. But the outcome they seek is the destruction of al-Aqsa in order to build the temple; some groups have already developed detailed blueprints for it.”
The resolution, which was submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, was voted through on Thursday with 24 votes in favour, six against, and 26 abstentions.
Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, the UK and the US voted against the resolution, while China, Russia, Mexico, South Africa and Pakistan among others voted in favour.