UNESCO designates Church of the Nativity as endangered site
Palestinian leaders consider the designation a political victory.
Bethlehem, West Bank
The Palestinians on Friday persuaded the U.N. cultural agency to list the Church of the Nativity — the place where Christians believe Jesus was born — as an endangered World Heritage site despite misgivings by churches in charge of the basilica.Skip to next paragraph
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The centuries-old basilica is located in a part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank where the Palestinians have self-rule. UNESCO's decision was seen by them as validation of their rights to the territory.
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The Palestinians had argued that the shrine faces imminent danger, both because of overdue repairs and Israel's continued occupation of the West Bank.
Israel and the U.S. strongly opposed the emergency bid, arguing that the church is not under threat, a position backed by a U.N. experts committee.
Israeli officials have said they don't object to the church being listed, but reject the "endangered" label which implies culpability of Israel, which in practice remains the ultimate sovereign in the West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Palestinians are "engaging in unilateral actions that only distance peace" and that UNESCO is driven by political considerations.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said the Palestinians now plan to submit more sites in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. The new bids could stir more political tensions, particularly in east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed to its capital after the 1967 war.
Ashrawi said Friday's vote is the beginning of a process.
"Our identity, our place in civilization, in history, are being recognized, are beginning to be safeguarded in the face of the Israeli occupation's encroachment, the confiscation of our land, our culture," she said.
The U.S. ambassador to UNESCO, David Killion, said Washington was "profoundly disappointed" by the vote. The U.S. has been trying to block the Palestinian recognition campaign, and withdrew tens of millions of dollars in funding from UNESCO after the Paris-based agency accepted the Palestinians as a state member last year.
Joining UNESCO was part of a wider Palestinian attempt to win global recognition for a state of Palestine in the territories Israel occupied in 1967.
Israelis and Palestinians were to have negotiated the borders of a Palestinian state, but two decades of intermittent talks produced no results. The last round broke off in 2008, and the Israeli and Palestinian leaders have failed to agree on rules for renewing them.