Absorbing Jewish HeritageThe Palestinian Authority has succeeded once again in appealing to UNESCO, the World Heritage Committee, to declare a site in the West Bank as worthy of world heritage status and funding for repairs. That site, a Christian church in Bethlehem, most certainly is a worthwhile candidate. The decision of acceptance made by 13 of the 21 members of the committee was greeted by a standing ovation.
For Christianity the fourth-century Church of the Nativity is of vital importance. It is reputed to have been built over a grotto. Christian tradition claims Jesus to have been born there, and it is in need of repairs. Which the Palestinian Authority, claiming ownership and rule of Bethlehem insists it cannot undertake on its own, as it is short of the required funds.
It enters the realm of statehood when it exhorts a world body to regard it as a sovereign state in responding to such requests. And this is the purpose of its overtures to UNESCO; to breach the normal approaches by which such sites are declared. There are plans to register an additional 20 sites with UNESCO, including the ancient city of Jericho which resonates with Judaic heritage; a perversion of reality and process.
The Pilgrimage Route where tradition claims Joseph and Mary travelled to reach Bethlehem from Nazareth over two millennia ago, is included in the PA's request for heritage funding. These ancient Jewish places which the Arab Palestinians now claim for their own, insisting that they have great meaning for them, yet which vastly pre-date them, are being used as a tool to gain eventual membership for the PA as a sovereign state within the UN.
Palestinian militants used the Church of the Nativity as a place of refuge during a violent uprising. The PA cites that 2002 event, when Israel laid siege to the building in an attempt to remove the terrorists, as having been a threat to the survival of the building. The terrorists who threatened and caused violence were ostensibly not the cause of damage to the building, but those who took action to defend themselves were held to be.
Independent experts tasked by UNESCO to examine the church brought back their report which recommended against the request. The shrine, they wrote could not be considered "to have been severely damaged or to be under imminent threat". But that, of course, was not the real purpose of the move. And there will be other sites that will be used by the Palestinian Authority, many of them sacred to Judaism as heritage Jewish sites, co-opted by Arab Palestinians as representing their own heritage.
"This gives hope and confidence to our people in the inevitable victory of our just cause. It increases their determination to continue efforts at deepening readiness for the establishment of an independent State of Palestine, with its capital in East Jerusalem within the 1967 borders." Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad
Another view of the situation, however, is stated by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office: "This is proof that UNESCO is motivated by political and not cultural considerations. Instead of taking steps to promote peace, the Palestinians are acting unilaterally, which makes peace more distant."
This approach, in appropriating Jewish historical monuments and heritage sites for their own, seeking legitimization through the UN's heritage agency, is a method that has been taken by the Palestinians to seek their goal of independent sovereignty and membership in the United Nations in lieu of the more responsible authority to be had in meeting across a negotiating table with Israel.
Achieving statehood without reaching an agreement with Israel that would ensure they would each agree to addressing issues of contention between them, is an assurance that peace will remain illusory and non-achievable. The PA harbours the impression that it should not be prepared to surrender any of its aspirations or set conditions, while Israel must accede to all of its demands.
This situation is certain to ensure that the implacable continuation of hatred and aggression between the Palestinians and Israel will simply continue.