In a move which takes chutzpah to new heights, the Palestinians are aiming to claim World Heritage status for sites like Bethlehem, Hevron and Shechem (Nablus) if they are accepted into UNESCO.
The Palestinians will seek World Heritage status for Bethlehem and its Church of the Nativity if the UN cultural agency admits them as a full member, and will then nominate other sites on Israeli-occupied land for the same standing, a Palestinian Authority minister said on Monday.
Hamdan Taha, a PA minister who deals with antiquities and culture, said UNESCO membership was the Palestinians’ natural right. He described as “regrettable” the objections of some governments including the United States.
Aside from Bethlehem, the Palestinian Authority has listed ancient pilgrimage routes and the West Bank towns of Nablus and Hebron among 20 cultural and natural heritage sites which Taha said could also be nominated as World Heritage Sites.
Since Bethlehem’s fame and status is based on its Christian origin, the Palestinians have an enormous chutzpah in claiming it as a Palestinian heritage site. To add insult to injury, the Christian population of Bethlehem has been systematically persecuted by the Palestinians and their numbers have shrunk alarmingly. Similarly, Hevron is Judaism’s second holiest city after Jerusalem. It is home to the Cave of Machpela, the burial site of the Jewish People’s ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives. That the Palestinians claim it as their own holy site is characteristic of the Moslem manner of usurping other people’s history and ancestors, claiming supersedence, and promoting their own dominance above everyone else.
Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO has condemned the move, saying politicizing UNESCO will undermine its ability to carry out its mandate.
But Taha described the Palestinians’ motives as “purely cultural.”
“This will allow Palestine to actively participate in protecting cultural heritage in the Palestinian territories,” he said.
The territories where the Palestinians aim to found their state are home to a plethora of ancient sites, many of biblical significance, as well as sites of natural importance such as the Dead Sea.
“We don’t see UNESCO as a theater for confrontation but one that could build bridges,” he said, adding that he had heard no Israeli objections to the bid to secure World Heritage status for Bethlehem.
Yet issues of heritage can be as incendiary as any in the Middle East. Last year, violence erupted in Hebron following an Israeli decision to include the Tomb of the Patriarchs, known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque, in an Israeli state plan to rehabilitate Jewish and Zionist heritage sites.
Elder of Ziyon expands on the dire implications of this Palestinian “heritage” agenda at UNESCO:
Declaring all of Bethlehem to be a UNESCO site would stop Israel from being able to maintain or protect Rachel’s Tomb.
Similarly, declaring Hebron and Nablus (Shechem) to be UNESO sites would impact Jewish access to the Cave of the Patriarchs and the Tomb of Joseph.
Perhaps most pernicious is the threat to declare “ancient pilgrimage routes” to be UNESCO sites as well. These routes, which are not well known, would mean that some (or all) roads to Jerusalem and Bethlehem would become World Heritage Sites. (Other pilgrimage sites were to Nazareth and the Kinneret.)
Since UNESCO itself has objected in the past to Israel declaring Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb) in Hevron a Jewish heritage site, I wouldn’t count on any neutrality or well-wishers there.
In a bid to prevent UNESCO from accepting the Palestinians into the organization, since this is seen as a back-door approach to being accepted into the UN itself, pressure has been applied from no less than Secretary of State Hilary Clinton:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hinted Wednesday the US may withhold funds to UNESCO if it votes to accept the Palestinians as a member state, a tactic that worked to keep the PLO from gaining entry into UN-affiliated bodies in 1989.
UNESCO, the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization based in Paris, is expected to vote in its 193- member General Conference later this month whether to grant the Palestinians a state.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – who asked during a press conference Wednesday in the Dominican Republic whether the US should stop funding or drop out of the organization if the move was adopted – said she found it “quite confusing and somewhat inexplicable that you would have organs of the UN making decisions about statehood, or quasistatehood status, while the issue has been presented to the United Nations.”
Then-president, Ronald Reagan, pulled the US out of UNESCO in 1984 because of its anti-American agenda and budgetary mismanagement, and Washington did not rejoin until 2003. Presently it contributes some 22 percent of the organization’s yearly budget.
Clinton urged UNESCO’s governing body to “think again before proceeding with that vote, because the decision about status must be made in the United Nations and not in auxiliary groups that are subsidiary to the United Nations.”
“What is the boundary of this state that is being considered by UNESCO?” she asked.
“What authorities does it have? What jurisdiction will it be endowed with? Who knows? Nobody knows because those are the hard issues that can only be resolved by negotiation.”
Regarding how the US will respond to the UNESCO move, Clinton said “we are certainly aware of strong legislative prohibition that prevents the United States from funding organizations that jump the gun, so to speak, in recognizing entities before they are fully ready for such recognition. So it is still our hope – and our strong recommendation – that we take this to the appropriate forum, which is the negotiating table, and take it out of international organizations that are basically engaged in actions that are not going to change the lives of the people that deserve a state of their own.
Mrs. Clinton’s words were echoed by American legislators:
Lawmakers on Wednesday warned the UN cultural agency that it stands to lose tens of millions of dollars in US funding if it agrees to admit Palestine as a member before an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is concluded.
Two top members of the House panel that oversees such funding say the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization could lose roughly $80 million in annual US contributions if it follows the recommendation of its board and admits Palestine.m (AP)
Let us hope that Israeli and American lobbying efforts will prevail but knowing the vagaries of the UN and its built-in biases and automatic anti-Israel majority, I don’t hold high hopes.