The Palestinian Authority (PA) intends to use its new UNESCO membership to claim the Dead Sea as a “heritage site.” It also is using the "New Seven Wonders" contest to claim part of the “lowest point on Earth.”
Bethlehem, Hevron, and other ancient Jewish sites in Judea and Samaria also are on the Authority’s list to become PA heritage sites.
PA Antiquities and Culture official Hamdan Taha said the PA's non-member status was behind UNESCO’s rejection of a request last year to declare the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem as a heritage site.
"This is a simple example of how Palestine has not been able to preserve its cultural heritage through the tools granted to every state in the world," Taha said. Although the church is clearly a Christian site, and Christians have been brutally driven out of Bethlehem in recent years, PA historians claim that Jesus was a Palestinian.
"We expect that after Bethlehem, other sites will follow," Taha told Reuters.
One of them is Hevron, where the ancient Biblical Patriarchs’ Cave has been claimed by Muslims as being exclusive to Islam. Arab officials in Hevron are preparing to file for the nomination of the old city, he added.
In recent years, Muslim clerics have given a novel twist to clear Biblical language concerning the “Binding of Isaac (Yitzchak.)” They argue that it actually was Ishmael, son of Avraham and his maidservant Hagar, whom Avraham offered as a sacrifice as an act of faith until G-d commanded him not to do so.
The Dead Sea has taken prominence on the PA list of heritage sites because of the New Seven World Wonders contest, which the PA said Tuesday it has joined "to prevent Israel having an opportunity to claim full control,” according to the PA’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
The PA did not explain what its historical connections are with the Dead Sea, which is listed in the Bible as part of the Promised Land. The area also is where the ancient Jewish Dead Sea Scrolls were found.
Israel developed the Dead Sea that was within the boundaries established in 1948 while Jordan, which occupied most of the Dead Sea’s coastal area until the Six-Day War in 1967, did not make any significant investments.
PA Tourism Minister Khloud Daibes explained that its participation in the campaign would "confirm our right and ownership of part of the Dead Sea and to prevent Israel having an opportunity to claim full control," a statement from the Palestinian Authority press office said.
She admitted that the PA will not win any immediate gain if the Dead Sea wins as one of the New Seven World Wonders, claiming that "Israel prevents us from benefitting from it or using it for tourism promotion and investment.”
The PA’s strategy parallels to a certain extent its attempt for membership in the United Nations to give it an image of legitimacy through its request to become a full member of the international body. The tactic violates the Oslo Accords that require a state to be established through direct negotiations with Israel.
Similarly, the PA reasons that helping the Dead Sea win a place on the list of the world’s wonders will “allow for Palestinians to invest in tourism and use of its natural resources in the panoramic and historical site.”
The final day of voting in the worldwide competition is November 11.