Daily Israel Report

'Palestinians' Continue Bid for Church of Nativity Heritage Site

‘Palestinian’ delegation to UNESCO is hoping to gain recognition for Church of Nativity as an endangered world heritage site.
By Rachel Hirshfeld
First Publish: 6/29/2012, 3:14 AM

Tourists in the Nativity Church
Tourists in the Nativity Church
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The ‘Palestinian’ delegation to a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) meeting on Friday in St. Petersburg is attempting to gain recognition for the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem as an endangered world heritage site.

The proposal comes following the admission of the ‘Palestinian’ delegation to UNESCO last year and is widely viewed as part of their campaign to achieve international recognition of an independent state based on their own territorial claims.

Two of the delegation’s officials said they were counting on the support of at least 10 of the 21 countries represented.

While the delegation is seeking to achieve a ‘fast-track’ heritage listing for the Church, a committee of UNESCO experts said that the application is likely to be delayed because it does not warrant emergency status.

The leaders of the Greek Orthodox, Catholic and Armenian churches rebuffed the Palestinian proposal, reserving judgment on its reasons, noted Fox News.

"In our opinion, we do not think it opportune to deal with this request that the Basilica and its entire complex be included in the list of World Heritage sites, due to different considerations," read a letter to Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas signed by the three leaders, obtained by The Associated Press.

France is said to be the only European state to vote in favor of heritage status for the site, The Jewish Chronicle (JC) reported.

Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre responded with outrage saying, “Never in history of the WHC has a purely religious site been inscribed on its list without the consent of the religious authorities.”

In a letter to the French Foreign Minister, Samuels urged the country to withdraw its support warning that it will bring only dishonor to the World Heritage Committee.

However, Yousef Daher of the World Council of Churches in Jerusalem asserted, "When it comes to the Church of the Nativity, no one can interfere.”

"A church is a church, it shouldn't become a world heritage. It's a sacred place and its ownership is not for anyone," he added.

Even the U.S. State Department disapproved of the bid, saying in a statement, "We are disappointed by the Palestinians' intention to push through an emergency inscription against the recommendation of UNESCO's own experts and without thoroughly consulting all stakeholders." 

"We hope the Committee will act responsibly as good stewards of the World Heritage Convention, rather than allowing yet another U.N. forum to become a victim of politicization," the U.S. statement said.