World must get Patriarchs' Cave off ‘heritage list’
To protest Israel's move, PA holds cabinet meeting in Hebron, not Ramallah.
By TOVAH LAZAROFF, HERB KEINON
The Palestinian Authority has called on the international community to stop Israel from including the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem on its list of national heritage sties.To protest the inclusion of the West Bank sites the PA wants as part of a Palestinian state, the PA held its weekly cabinet meeting in Hebron on Monday, instead of in from Ramallah as usual.In a statement released after the meeting, the PA said the Israeli cabinet’s decision on February 21 to include the two sites on the list violated international law.“These sites are an inseparable part of Palestinian land which has been occupied since 1967. The PA has turned to all the international bodies to demand that they oppose Israel’s decision,” the PA said.The PA also reiterated its opposition to Israeli actions in east Jerusalem, including the construction of Jewish homes and the demolition of illegally built Arab homes, as well as the steps security personnel took on Sunday to quell Muslim rioters on the Temple Mount.The PA asked the European Union to help stop Jewish construction in east Jerusalem.On Monday, the EU said that Israel was harming the peace process.A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement that Ashton regarded the addition of the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb to the heritage list “as detrimental to the attempts to relaunch peace negotiations. The EU calls on Israel to refrain from provocative acts.”Palestinians clashed with the IDF in Hebron for five days after the cabinet approved the list on February 21. Since then the violence has dwindled to small incidents of rock-throwing.On Monday, a group of settler youths in Hebron, some as young as four years old, threw rocks and cursed at Palestinians, according to The Associated Press.PA President Mahmoud Abbas warned last week that placing West Bank sites on the heritage list could lead to a religious war.But PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told AP, “We are not going to be drawn into a cycle of violence. We are fully determined, and we count on our people understanding fully well that the best response to this... is to stay focused” on state-building.The cave where the biblical forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are thought to be buried is sacred to both Jews and Muslims, who pray in separate sections of the complex.Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he hoped the present tension over Rachel’s Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs was just a “rough moment, a hiccup” that could be overcome on the way to renewing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Kerry, at a Jerusalem press conference on Monday, said that access to the sites – which he said were important to Jews’ and Muslims’ understanding of their “history, culture and religions” – was shared.Saying that he thought what Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the cabinet did was “understandable” within the context of trying to “preserve and renew” the Jewish components of the sites, Kerry added that “the timing and manner of the announcement needs to be taken into account in the future context of trying to move people to dialogue.”The move “certainly lends itself to misinterpretation without adequateexplanation, and I think there is an explanation, and I think you haveto be careful with these things. My caution as we go forward is we haveto be thoughtful about everything we say and do so we keep a dialogueon track,” the senator said.Regarding that dialogue, Kerry, after meeting with Netanyahu inJerusalem on Monday and with Abbas in Amman on Sunday, said he was“convinced that there is a willingness in both governments to try tomove forward in respect to dialogue.”Kerry said that he was hopeful that over the next weeks and months “theprocess can reach a critical point where it is possible for ouradministration in Washington and the government here to announcesomething positive.” He gave no details or timetable.
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