The U.S. State Dept. charged UNESCO on Monday with “hotwiring” a Palestinian Authority demand that the Church of Nativity be declared a PA heritage site.
The designation is usually reserved for sites that are under the threat of destruction. The United Nations agency, which recently accepted the Palestinian Authority as a member over American objections, rejected its own advisors’ opinions and named the church in Bethlehem as an official Palestinian Authority heritage site.
The decision adds another pillar to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s strategy of trying to turn the Palestinian Authority into a de facto country.
State Dept. spokeswoman Victoria Nuland rejected Associated Press reporter Matt Lee’s argument that American opposition to the heritage designation was “political.”
The World Heritage Commission’s decision to include the church of Nativity as a world heritage site was made despite “the official recommendation of the International Council of Monuments and Sites, the expert body that evaluated the site,” Nuland said.
She explained, “This procedure in the World Heritage Committee has only been used four times in the past, in extreme cases when the site in question was under threat of being torn down. That was not the case here…. It – from our mind, it speaks to a political move rather than a well thought-out move with regard to the site…"
“It speaks to hotwiring a process that should have been done more properly… It wasn’t an absolute imperative to designate it under this emergency thing.”
Another reporter alleged that Israel is digging under the Temple Mount, a supposed activity that could allow the Palestinian Authority to claim that the Dome of the Rock mosque is in danger.
“Do you counsel against taking similar activities with the Dome of the Rock and the Haram Sharif because there is digging underneath there, and there may be plans to do the same thing with UNESCO – Joseph Tomb, the Holy Sepulcher Church, and many other places?” the journalist identified as “Said” asked Nuland.
“We are prepared to see the World Heritage Committee review any appropriate sites. We just want to see it done through normal procedures,” she answered.
Lee of the AP unsuccessfully tried to corner Nuland into saying that the American opposition to accepting the Church of Nativity as a Palestinian Authority heritage site was based on its concern that the Palestinian Authority “shouldn’t be a member of UNESCO in the first place.”
Nuland replied, “I think we’ve gone to the end of this one. Anybody else? Anything else? All right. Thank you, all.”