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Reunited and It Feels So Good, UNESCO SHMUNESCO, Ode(un) to Rome

Palestinian Factions Hamas and Fatah End Split on Gaza

BBC, October 12th 2017


Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal in a step towards ending a decade-long rift between the two Palestinian factions.

The Context:

  • Fatah, once the linchpin of the Palestinian cause, lost power in 2006 when Hamas won elections in Gaza - leaving the Palestinian Authority (PA) to solely govern parts of the West Bank not under Israeli control. In April 2014, Hamas and Fatah agreed to reunite although a national unity government never materialized.

  • The agreement calls for the PA’s presidential guard to assume responsibility of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt on November 1st and the full transfer of administrative control of Gaza to the unity government by December 1st. 3,000 Fatah security officers will soon join the Gaza police force [1] although a decision has not been made on how to integrate Hamas’ 25,000 militants [2].

  • Hamas heralded the deal as "a new chapter in Palestinian history" and PA President Mahmoud Abbas will soon travel to Gaza for the first time in ten years.

  • Leaked communications allege that the PA refused to sign an agreement without a confirmation from Hamas that it would refrain from unilaterally launching war or peace with Israel [3].

  • Hamas has fought three wars with Israel and is designated a terrorist organization by Israel, the US, EU and UK. Hamas has recently come under pressure since Qatar, its primary financier, has been banished by its Arab neighbors for perpetuating terrorism. The deal with the PA could temporarily ease Gaza's dire humanitarian situation [4].

Conversation Points:

  • Will Palestinian unity revive talks of Palestinian statehood with Israel?

  • Is internal Palestinian strife a major obstacle to peacemaking?

  • Did Hamas only agree to a deal with the PA because of its financial woes and growing isolation? Will this deal hold once Qatar is back on its feet?

U.S. Withdraws from UNESCO, the U.N.’s Cultural Organization, Citing Anti-Israel Bias

Eli Rosenberg & Carol Morello, Washington Post, October 12th 2017


The United States will withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at the end of next year. The US once provided 22% of UNESCO’s funding but stopped supporting the organization in 2011 when Palestine was added as a member. By the end of this calendar year, the unpaid US bill will amount to $550 million [5].

The Context:

  • The US helped found UNESCO after World War II. The organization seeks to improve access to education, preserve cultural heritage, improve gender equality and promote scientific advances and freedom of expression.

  • The US State Department cited a 2012 decision by UNESCO not to expel Syria from its human rights committee and repeated resolutions that refer to Israel as an occupying power as reasons for leaving the organization. This year saw multiple resolutions in which UNESCO ignored Jewish ties to Israel.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision to leave UNESCO “brave” and instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to prepare for Israel’s withdrawal as well. Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, called the decision “counterproductive and shameful [6].”

  • Last week, Audrey Azoulay, a Parisian Jew of Moroccan descent [7], took the helm at UNESCO and urged the US to backtrack and instead “work within UNESCO [to] support, strengthen and reform it and not leave [8].”

  • In 1984, the US left UNESCO for what was described as a pro-Soviet Union bias and didn’t rejoin until 2002 when George W. Bush sought to promote a message of international cooperation following the 9/11 terror attacks.

Conversation Points:

  • Does the US withdrawal from UNESCO foreshadow further US pullback from UN institutions?

  • Will the US withdrawal from UNESCO force Azoulay to chart a more balanced course for the organization?

  • Palestine has been admitted as a member state in over 50 agreements and international organizations. Will the US respond by withdrawing from each one?

Massive Section of Western Wall and Roman Theater Uncovered After 1,700 Years

Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel, October 16th 2017


The Antiquity Authority announced the excavation of a 26-foot deep section of Jerusalem’s Western Wall, which has been unseen for 1,700 years.

The Context:

  • The newfound 300-seat theater, whose existence is noted by Josephus Flavius and other ancient sources, is the first rediscovered example of a Roman public building in Jerusalem. Experts believe the space was an Odeon, a playhouse used for acoustic performances [9]. The latest date found on an excavated coin from the site is 380 CE.

  • The excavation took place discretely beneath Wilson’s Arch —adjacent to the men’s section of the Western Wall.

  • Archaeologists believe the theater was never actually used since key elements, like the staircase, were left unfinished. Experts attribute this to the tumult that followed the Bar Kochba revolt by Jews against the Roman Empire in the second century [10].

Conversation Points:

  • Will UNESCO deem the Odeon a Roman heritage site and demand it’s return to the Italian government?!


  1. Palestinian rivals Fatah, Hamas sign reconciliation accord, Nidal al-Mughrabi & Omar Fahmy, Reuters, October 12th 2017

  2. Hamas Agreed Not to Carry Out Terror Attacks Against Israel, Palestinian Sources Say Hamas and Fatah agreed to avoid unilateral actions that, Jack Khoury, Haaretz, October 15th 2017

  3. IN ACCORD WITH FATAH, HAMAS AGREES TO HALT ATTACKS ON ISRAELIS IN THE WEST BANK, Hagay Hacohen, Yasser Okbi, Maariv Hashavua, Jerusalem Post, October 14th 2017

  4. Hamas: Deal reached with Palestinian rival Fatah, Al Jazeera, October 12th 2017

  5. WILL A JEWISH HEAD OF UNESCO CHANGE ITS ANTI-ISRAEL BIAS, Tovah Lazaroff, Jerusalem Post, October 16th 2017

  6. US and Israel withdraw from UNESCO, Al Jazeera, October 14th 2017

  7. Audrey Azoulay wins vote to be next UNESCO chief, Al Jazeera, October 14th 2017

  8. WILL A JEWISH HEAD OF UNESCO CHANGE ITS ANTI-ISRAEL BIAS, Tovah Lazaroff, Jerusalem Post, October 16th 2017

  9. Ancient Roman theater unearthed next to Jerusalem's Western Wall, Ian Lee, CNN, October 16th 2017

  10. Amazing Western Wall discovery: New section, ancient theater, uncovered in Jerusalem, James Rogers, Fox News, October 16th 2017

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