Palestine attempts land grab at World Heritage Committee

At Russia's UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting Palestine claimed an “emergency basis” heritage inscription over the Church of the Nativity.

CHURCH of the Nativity in Bethlehem 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
CHURCH of the Nativity in Bethlehem 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestine, as a full member-state of UNESCO, is also a state party to the World Heritage Committee, currently meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia. Membership endows rights and obligations which the latest member deliberately ignores to promote its irresponsible aims.
The late Israeli diplomat Abba Eban coined the expression “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” So it was at the UN Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, held four weeks ago in Paris at UNESCO.
Featured as a discussion on “The Rights of Youth and Women,” that anti-Semitic hate-fest (“the Jews murder our children and rape our wives”) became a planning session for more coordinated boycotts of Israel.
Two weeks ago, the Palestinian delegation to “Rio + 25” hijacked a UN conference on water agriculture and biodiversity (vital issues for their people), to disseminate propaganda on “the Judaization of Jerusalem” and “the apartheid wall.”
So it is now the turn of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, meeting in Russia. Beyond the deadline to register a nomination, Palestine used a stratagem to claim an “emergency basis” inscription of heritage over the Birthplace of Jesus, the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrim Route, Bethlehem.
This was a provocation, in that the three custodians of the Nativity Church, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos, the Armenian Patriarch Torkom Mancogian and the Catholic Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land Pierbattista Pizzaballa diplomatically expressed their objection to Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Released by the Associated Press on April 11 and signed by the three prelates, was the statement that “Following the meeting of March 19 and after having carefully considered all of the possibilities, we are now able to give our final opinion on the proposal to include the Basilica of the Nativity, with the whole old city of Bethlehem, in the World Heritage List. In our opinion, we do not think it opportune to deal with this request.”
This did not faze the Palestinians, who on June 11 (according to an AP despatch in the Daily Star of Lebanon of June 23), released what was purported to be a support statement signed in type by the Greek Orthodox and Catholic clerics, with the Armenian notably missing.According to a UNESCO official who requested anonymity,that letter "gave some delegations the impression that the churches had changed their opinion and were no longer opposed to the inscription"
SIMILARLY, THE WHC’s advisory body, ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) had noted that the nomination could not be considered “under the conditions, concerning damage or serious and specific dangers... Decides not to inscribe the Birthplace of Jesus, the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem, Palestine on the World Heritage List on an emergency basis.”
That should have ended the matter, just as a similar ruling, that the Le Chauvet-Pont d’Arc Grotto was not in danger, led to a swift withdrawal by France.
But Palestine has other designs. At one time, its proposal had read “Greater Bethlehem,” which led to the speculation as to whether the Tomb of Rachel was to be included in the protected zone. We should recall that both Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron were recently designated as mosques by UNESCO’s Executive Board.
Another site on their wish list is the village of Bittar (the site of the final stand of Bar-Kochba’s rebellion against the Romans). The village was awarded the UNESCO Melina Mercouri Prize for its ancient Roman irrigation system. The subtext, however, is the route of Israel’s security barrier, currently before the Israeli Supreme Court. If awarded World Heritage status, the Palestinians believe, a court decision will no longer be necessary. This is an exercise of direct intervention for leverage over Israel’s sovereign right to self-defense.
Palestine has also filed a so-called “Tentative List” of a dozen other sites, including Ancient Jericho, Mount Gerizim, the Old City of Nablus (Shchem) and its environs, Old City of Hebron and its environs and Sebastia. The last is within the 1949 Green Line and the Scrolls pertain, we thought irrefutably; to the Jewish people.
Palestinian supercessionism has now moved beyond Jewish sites to those of Christianity, Samaritans and first-century Essenes.
Indeed, Algeria, acting as enforcer on behalf of Palestine, presented a new draft which became the basis for the vote. Remarkably, it justified the claim by saying that “Bethlehem is holy to Christians as well as to Muslims. It is a strong symbol for more than two billion believers in the world.” Algeria’s Ambassador added: “I am a Muslim,we are talking about Jesus, our prophet.”
The Palestinian delegate’s triumphant reaction was more political menace than cultural heritage: “Israel colonizers threaten the existence of the Palestinian people... we will present many more nominations [of sites] in danger from Israel.”
The international community deleted the scenes, 10 years ago, of the five-week occupation by Palestinian terrorists of the Nativity Basilica, leaving five dead priests and holy objects desecrated. The perpetrators were affiliated with Abbas’s PLO, now to become responsible stewards of Jesus’s birthplace.
It is France that bears the greatest responsibility for this outcome.
Indeed, inscription would have been impossible without its vote, which its ambassador unabashedly announced before the otherwise secret ballot. “France will assist Palestine with a management plan for the site,” he added. The three other European states, Switzerland, Estonia and Germany, were all identified as voting against.
In an ironic two-step schizophrenia, five minutes after the Bethlehem vote for Palestine, the WHC respectfully debated and inscribed the Carmel neanderthal caves as an Israeli heritage site. Sadly, this exception does not break the rule.
Palestine’s hunger for theft of other narratives has been fed by international donors. Work in Nablus and Hebron was funded by austerity-fraught Spanish taxpayers, to the tune of $3 million.
It is little known that, since the 1967 reunification of Jerusalem, the Old City, at least in the WHC, is still dealt with by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, in negotiation with Israel.
The Jerusalem question, this year, was divided into two, and no debate was permitted.
On the first, the Mughrabi Ascent to the Temple Mount, a consensual Jordanian-Israeli text was adopted.
Regarding the second, an annual agenda item on the Old City and its Walls, the parties showed no willingness for discussion and the matter was postponed for a year.
It is a pity that this cannot be the procedure for all Holy Land sites Israel offered the Palestinians to likewise consider jointly the heritage claims on their radar screen. The response is a rampage of irresponsible demands for land grabs.
It behooves the Jewish people to work with its friends to prevent further depredations against Christian properties and to prioritize campaign in international organizations to defend against theft of the Jewish heritage.
The author is director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.