PA pushing to register Nativity Church at UNESCO

PA needs approval of two thirds of UN World Heritage C'tee states present at time of the vote to secure passage.

June 29, 2012 01:20
3 minute read.
A worshiper in Church of the Nativity

A worshiper in Church of the Nativity 370 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

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 names.

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.

Israel 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.

On 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.

An Israeli 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.

Israel has 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 state.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor charged that the PA was continuing to politicize UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

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 materialized.”

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 consideration.

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 Emirates.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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