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PA advised against bid for Bethlehem church

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 The secretariat of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has come out against a bid by the Palestinian Authority to use an emergency procedure to register Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity under the country of “Palestine” as a World Heritage site.

“At the UN, where the General Assembly each year adopts more resolutions criticizing Israel than on the rest of the world combined, this is a spectacle as rare as Halley’s Comet,” UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said.
He first published news of the rejection on his blog, and circulated it to the media.

“This is the first time in recent memory that a draft resolution circulated by the United Nations – let alone by UNESCO, which recently elected Assad’s Syria to its human rights committee – openly rejected a Palestinian claim or position,” Neuer said. His Geneva-based nonprofit group monitors UN activity.

The secretariat’s resolution echoes a conclusion by the International Council on Monuments and Sites, whose professional staff similarly concluded that the Palestinians should pursue World Heritage registration through regular channels. It, like the secretariat, said that more could be done to improve the technical nature of the application.

The Church of the Nativity is one of the 36 potential new World Heritage sites. A World Heritage Committee of 21 countries is set to debate their inclusion during a meeting that will be held from June 24 to July 6 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The draft resolution posted by the secretariat on the World Heritage website states that the Palestinians should “resubmit the nomination in accordance with normal procedures for nomination, to allow a proper assessment of integrity, authenticity and conversation, and proper consideration of management arrangements and appropriate boundaries for the property.”

The final decision will be made by a two-thirds vote of the 21 countries that are members of the World Heritage Committee.

The PA has asked the World Heritage Committee to consider adding the church to its list through an emergency procedure reserved for endangered sites.

Approval by the 21-member committee would mark the first time that a World Heritage Site has been registered to the country of “Palestine.”

The United Nations has not recognized Palestine as a member state. But in October, UNESCO vote to include Palestine on its list of 195 member states, and to accord it full state rights in all UNESCO-related bodies, such as the World Heritage Committee.

In March, after the PA signature on the UNESCO’s Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage was ratified, the PA asked the World Heritage Committee to register the church and the pilgrimage route in Bethlehem.

In its application, the PA said, “The combined effects of the consequences of the Israeli occupation and the lack of scientific and technical measures for restoring and preserving the property are creating an emergency situation that should be addressed by an emergency measure.”

Israel has opposed registering the site under Palestine, until such time as it becomes a state as a result of a negotiated end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It has opposed all unilateral steps toward statehood by the PA.

It does, however, support registering the church as a World Heritage site, and would have wanted to present it to the committee together with the Palestinians as a joint endeavor.

Israel’s position at present is simply to urge the 21 member countries to support the secretariat’s position.

The Palestinians in turn say that the church is endangered and that it is their right to register the site solely under Palestine.

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