The Palestinian Authority was hopeful Thursday night that it had secured enough
support to ensure that the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem will be
registered under the name of Palestine as a World Heritage Site when the matter
is voted upon this weekend in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The PA needs
the approval of two thirds of the countries on the UN World Heritage Committee
present at the time of the vote to secure passage.
It believes it has the
support of 10 to 12 of the 21 committee members, but would not provide
It says that this, together with some abstentions, should be
enough to assure passage.
Shimon Samuels, the director of international
relations for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said he believes France is among
those countries that will support the Palestinian bid.
The Jerusalem Post
could not confirm France’s position. The debate will start on
Friday. The vote could take place that day, or on Saturday.
views the bid as the latest PA attempt to unilaterally pursue statehood at the
UN in place of a final-status agreement.
It comes amid a resumed push by
the international community to rekindle the frozen peace talks.
Wednesday, the prime minister’s special envoy Yitzhak Molcho met in Brussels
with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
He briefed her
on Israeli-Palestinian contacts. Molcho’s trip comes after a visit to Israel
earlier this week by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met with top leaders
including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
On Sunday, Abbas is
scheduled to meet with Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz. Last Thursday, Mofaz spent more
than an hour with US President Barack Obama in Washington.
official said that Mofaz’s meeting with Abbas had been coordinated with the
Prime Minister’s Office. “Mofaz has been fully briefed by the prime minister and
Molcho,” the official said. “We hope the meeting can facilitate a more positive
momentum in the dialogue between us and the Palestinians.
“We would like
to see the resumption of talks,” the official said.
consistently called on the Palestinians to hold face-to-face talks without
preconditions. The Palestinians, in turn, have insisted that they will not hold
formal negotiations with Israel until it freeze settlement activity and Jewish
building in east Jerusalem.
Israel is concerned a vote by the World
Heritage Committee will harm efforts to resume talks. While it believes that
Jesus’s traditional birthplace belongs on the World Heritage List, it prefers
that the Palestinians register it jointly with Israel.
The bid itself is
based on the desire to help preserve an important historical, religious and
cultural site. But the PA has also been clear that approval would be an
important sign of international acceptance of Palestine as a
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor charged that the PA was
continuing to politicize UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and
Although the United Nations does not recognize
Palestine as a member-state, the UNESCO accepted it as its 195th member in
October and granted all rights due to a state, including the ability to register
sites on the World Heritage List.
“We warned UNESCO members that by
granting the Palestinian unilateral recognition as full member- state they will
open the door for the Palestinians to hijack UNESCO and divert it form its
original mission,” Palmor said. “Now we see how that warning has
The PA is trying to register the church as a World
Heritage Site through an emergency procedure reserved for endangered places. But
the Word Heritage Committee secretariat and the International Council on
Monuments and Sites have recommended that the 21 member-countries reject the PA
bid, because they believe the church does qualify for emergency
In its conversations with the 21 member-states, Israel is
urging them to respect these recommendations.
The countries that can vote
on the matter are Algeria, Cambodia, Colombia, Estonia, Ethiopia, France,
Germany, India, Iraq, Japan, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Qatar, Russia, Senegal,
Serbia, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand and the United Arab
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Reuters contributed to this report.