For the first time in their history on Thursday, Palestinians have the right to
act as a state before the World Heritage Committee and ask the UN body to
register Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity under the name of
The Palestinian Authority has an inventory list of 20
historical, religious, cultural and natural sites over the pre-1967 line that it
wants the UN to register.
These range from the old town of Nablus to
Qumran where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. No sites in Jerusalem are on the
PA’s list at present.
As an initial step, the PA has asked the committee
to consider the Church of the Nativity as a historical site when it convenes in
St. Petersburg at the end of June.
Palestine is not an accepted member
state of the UN. But it is possible for the PA to register sites under the name
of Palestine after the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
accepted it as the 195th member of its organization on October 31. This move
opened the door for Palestine’s admission to all UNESCO bodies.
Thursday, however, will its signature to the UNESCO’s Convention Concerning the
Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage be ratified. Palestine will
also be a member of three other conventions: Safeguarding the Intangible
Cultural Heritage; Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage; and the
Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.
World Heritage Committee had already received the PA’s registration application
for the Church of the Nativity, but could only formally accept it on
According to Omar Awadallah, who heads the UN department in the
PA Foreign Ministry, preparation to register Palestinian sites before the World
Heritage Committee began over four years ago.
“We were waiting for all
final status issues with Israel to be resolved,” he said.
In light of the
deadlocked negotiations, the PA is now using that material to move forward at
Since the deadline to be placed on the World Heritage Committee’s
June agenda has passed, the PA has asked for an emergency exception.
committee’s International Council on Monuments and Sites has not yet made a
ruling on that request.
Israel has opposed all Palestinian moves to
unilaterally pursue statehood at the UN, including the UNESCO membership and
moves to register sites in Palestine.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal
Palmor said that recognition of Palestinian statehood should come only after the
PA has negotiated a final-status agreement with Israel. Recognition of Palestine
prior to such an agreement destroys the chance of achieving a twostate solution
where both peoples can live together in peace, he said. He urged the
Palestinians to return to the negotiating table instead of unilaterally pursuing
statehood at the UN.
Awadallah, however, said “We already believe that we
are a state. We just want to be recognized as a member state at the
“It is a legal and historical right for all nations, including the
Palestinians, to be a part of these conventions,” he said. “This is a normal
thing, because nations want to protect their heritage and culture.”
Palmor said that if it was about national protection, the PA would have chosen
to register a Muslim or environmental site. Instead, it chose a Christian site,
“Running amok in their attempt to dispossess Jews of their
history as displayed in the infamous Jerusalem conference recently held in Doha,
the Palestinians are now causing wide collateral damage by trying to lay claim
to Christianity and its holy sites as their very own,” he said.
added that the PA could have tried to register a non-religious site or even a
“But they chose a Christian site at the same time that they
are legislating laws inspired by Shari’a which barely tolerate Christians let
Awadallah countered that Christian history was an important
part of Palestine.
“Jesus is the Palestinian prince of hope and peace and
Bethlehem is his birthplace,” he said.
He added that eventually the
Palestinians want to register Bethlehem’s entire old city, it simply started
with the church.
“I think that Christians all over the world want that
church to be a World Heritage site.”