Israel is working to block a bid by the Palestinian Authority to register the
Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem under the country of Palestine, when the
World Heritage Committee meets in Russia from June 24 to July 6.
this month the committee announced that the church, as well as the nearby
pilgrimage route, is among 36 sites which it plans to debate during that
meeting. The debate marks the first time that the committee has considered
registering a World Heritage site under Palestine.
The PA can request
such registration because in October the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization, recognized Palestine as its 195th member state.
The UN has
not recognized Palestine as a state. But as a result of the October vote,
Palestine has full state rights in all UNESCO bodies, including the right to
register sites on the World Heritage List.
As soon as its signature with
the UNESCO’s Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural
Heritage was ratified in March, the PA asked the World Heritage Committee to
register the church and the pilgrimage route in Bethlehem under Palestine. It
made it onto the list under an emergency provision for endangered
Earlier this month, UNESCO announced the inclusion of the Church
of the Nativity on its list of 36 potential sites. It noted that this was a
first for Palestine.
It did not mention that its International Council on
Monuments and Sites, which evaluates each application, had recommended that for
technical reasons the World Heritage Committee reject the PA’s application at
“ICOMOS does not consider that the property can be considered
to have been severely damaged or to be under imminent threat,” it said in a
report, which can be found on the UNESCO web site.
It added that no
immediate action could by taken by the World Heritage Committee “that is
necessary for the survival of the property.” It advised the PA to resubmit its
application under the normal assessment process.
“This could provide the
opportunity for a full assessment of the needs of the property in terms of
protection, conservation and management,” it said.
The decision with
regard to placing the Church of the Nativity on the World Heritage List will be
made by the committee, which is composed of 21 countries. Committee members
include Algeria, Cambodia, Colombia, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Germany, India,
Iraq, Japan, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Qatar, Russian Federation, Senegal, Serbia,
South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.
Israeli official said that the Church was worthy of inclusion on the World
Heritage List, but that the PA had politicized the cultural and historical
issues at play.
Israel, the official said, opposes all Palestinian
endeavors to unilaterally act as a state in advance of negotiating a
final-status agreement for a two state solution. Such steps, he said, harm the
peace process and the possibility of a two state solution that ends the conflict
between Israel and the Palestinians.
But a Palestinian official said that
Palestine was already a state and that all UNESCO has now done is recognize that
fact. He added that his country had a right to act as all other countries in
front of UNESCO by registering important sites that fall within its
The official said that in spite of ICOMOS’s conclusion, his
government believed that the church was endangered.
In its report to the
committee, the PA said, “the combined effects of the consequences of the Israeli
occupation and the lack of scientific and technical measures for restoring and
preserving the property are creating an emergency situation that should be
addressed by an emergency measure.”
The issue of the church is only one
of a number of ways in which the Israeli- Palestinian conflict will be part of
the World Heritage Committee meeting.
It will hear a report on the
protection of the Palestinian cultural and natural heritage. It will also debate
issues relating to the Old City of Jerusalem which is registered under Jordan,
and which is considered an endangered site. Israel expects that UNESCO will pass
a resolution condemning Israeli treatment of the site.
The committee will
also debate registering the site of human evolution at the base of Mt. Carmel in