United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

The Director-General holds talks with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority

From 14 to 15 June 2008, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, paid his second official visit to the Palestinian Territories.

This visit followed the Eighth Meeting of the Joint UNESCO/Palestinian Authority Committee meeting, organized at Headquarters on 4-5 March 2008 (cf Flash Info N° 030-2008). Throughout his visit, the Director-General was accompanied by Ambassador Elias Sanbar, Permanent Observer of Palestine to UNESCO.

In Ramallah, after laying a wreath at the Arafat Memorial, the Director-General met President Mahmoud Abbas. On this occasion, Mr Matsuura reaffirmed UNESCO’s strong support for the reform process initiated by the Palestinian Authority, and outlined in the recently adopted “Palestinian Reform and Development Plan”. “I am very gratified by the recent progress in our cooperation, based on a shared vision of prosperity and peace which put education and culture at the very heart of rehabilitation, development and dialogue efforts. UNESCO will continue to respond in such a way that its assistance is attuned to existing and emerging needs”, emphasized Mr Matsuura. President Abbas warmly welcomed UNESCO’s concrete and positive approach to the priority needs of the Palestinian people, and also expressed his wish to see UNESCO take a lead role in the restoration of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, the first site listed in the “Inventory of Cultural and Natural Heritage sites of Potential Universal Value in Palestine”.

On the same day, Mr Matsuura held a bilateral meeting with Mr Riad Al-Malki, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, to discuss ongoing developments on the ground and efforts to promote peace, development and reconciliation in the region. This was followed by a working session chaired by Mr Riad Al-Malki, with the participation of Mrs Lamis Al-Alami, Minister of Education and Higher Education, Mrs Tahani Abu Daqqa, Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, Mrs Kholoud Deibes, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities and of Women Affairs, and Mr Yahya Yakhlef, President of the National Commission for Education, Culture and Science. Among the issues discussed were UNESCO’s continued support for programmes and projects in the fields of quality education, with a particular emphasis on teacher education, educational planning and management, technical and vocational education, and scientific education and research; support to tangible and intangible heritage conservation and safeguarding, as well as the promotion of cultural industries and cultural tourism; the development of audiovisual archives and the strengthening of media literacy programmes; and gender and youth outreach, through sustained support to the Women’s Research and Documentation Centre (PWRDC). The Director-General also addressed by videoconference young pupils from two UNESCO Associated Schools (ASPnet) located in the Gaza Strip: “Despite severe difficulties on the ground, we must continue to ensure that all students can achieve decent learning outcomes and acquire values and skills that help them play a positive role in their societies”, stated the Director-General during an interactive discussion.

On 15 June, the Director-General visited the City of Nablus, where he was welcomed by the Governor of Nablus and the Acting Mayor of Nablus, Mr Jamal Moheisen and Mr Hafez Shaheen respectively. Mr Matsuura also took part in a ceremony to publish the results of an architectural competition supported by the Munir Sukhtian Group on the “Design of Public Spaces and Urban Facilities in the Old City of Nablus” and visited the Khan al-Wakala Caravanserail, where UNESCO is carrying out important renovation works in cooperation with the Municipality of Nablus and the An-Najah National University, with funding from the European Commission. The rehabilitation of the site, which should serve as a model for future protection of the cultural heritage of the old city of Nablus and the development of tourism facilities, is expected to be completed by the end of 2009.

Mr Matsuura then proceeded to the city of Bethlehem to lay the foundation stone of the future Riwaya Museum (Museum of Narratives), a project displaying all forms of Palestinian tangible and intangible heritage, designed with the financial support of Norway. The inauguration of the museum is expected to take place in September 2009. Speaking in the presence of the representative of President Abbas, Mrs Khouloud Daibes, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Mr Salah Tamari, Governor of Bethlehem, Mr Victor Batarseh, Mayor of Bethlehem, and Mr Sten Arne Rosnes, Representative of Norway to the Palestinian Authority, the Director-General emphasized the key role of cultural heritage in economic recovery and development, and in building social cohesion. “I believe this Museum will be a place for reflection, creativity and inspiration, and a vector for educational and cultural initiatives. Intellectual solidarity, and promoting intercultural dialogue can indeed be a driving force to achieve sustainable development, stability and peace”, Mr Matsuura concluded.

Mr Matsuura also visited the UNESCO Office in Ramallah, to discuss UNESCO’s priority actions in the Palestinian Territories.

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Author(s): Office of the Spokeswoman - Source: Flash Info N° 074-2008 -  Publication Date: 17-06-2008

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