France backs Palestinian UNESCO bid for Church of Nativity

By Heidi Heinemann, June 28, 2012
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A Palestinian delegation to a Unesco meeting tomorrow in St Petersburg is seeking to gain recognition for the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as a world heritage site.

The bid comes following the Palestinians’ admission to Unesco last year and is widely viewed as part of their campaign to achieve international recognition of an independent state.

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

The Palestinian delegation is seeking to achieve a ‘fast-track’ heritage listing for the Church, although a committee of Unesco experts say that the application is likely to be delayed by at least a year because it does not merit emergency status.

France will be the only European state to vote in support of Palestinian heritage status for the site. Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in America expressed outrage, saying: “Never in the history of the WHC has a purely religious site been inscribed on its list without the consent of the religious authorities.”

Mr Samuels warned France of “finding itself in direct conflict with the expressed positions of the three custodian churches of the Nativity site; the Vatican, the Armenians and the Greek Orthodox”.

Mr Samuels, in a letter to the French Foreign Minister, urged France to withdraw its support in light of its “reckless resolution” bringing only dishonour to the World Heritage Committee.

Palestinian Authorities hope to win world heritage recognition for an additional 19 sites, but with the emotional appeal of Bethlehem to millions of Christians worldwide, the Church of Nativity is seen as the most promising candidate, and thus was the first to be submitted.

A vote by the Unesco committee is due on Saturday or Sunday.

Last updated: 10:41am, July 4 2012