Conservation Palestinian Authority

Unesco rejects Palestinian heritage proposal

Non-member status of the United Nations makes it ineligible to successfully nominate sites

A Palestinian man walks past the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

JERUSALEM/PARIS. Unesco is considering adding 11 Middle East sites in June for inclusion on its World Heritage List, but the Palestinian nomination will not be among them.

The Palestinian proposal of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was rejected for consideration. “The World Heritage Committee will not be able to consider the nomination until, if and when Palestine becomes a state party to the [World Heritage] Convention,” said Louise Haxthausen, the head of Unesco’s office in Ramallah.

Only countries recognised by the United Nations as sovereign states and members of the world body can make nominations to Unesco. The current status of the West Bank and Gaza are referred to by the UN as Occupied Palestinian Territory. The UN recognised the PLO as the official representative of the Palestinian people and as such granted it UN observer, not member, status in 1974.

Palestinian officials nonetheless submitted a nomination for the fourth-century church to Unesco’s World Heritage Committee earlier this year as part of its state-building plan, which may also include asking for state recognition at the UN General Assembly in September (see related article).

“Finally, it was a Palestinian attempt to execute their rights in preserving cultural heritage,” said Hamdan Taha, the director of the Palestinian Antiquities Authority. “That Palestine is not a state party to the convention is no longer accepted by those of us who respect heritage—it is a political argument and it’s time to remove this obstacle,” said Taha, adding: “Preserving cultural heritage is the legitimate right of Palestinians and this right can’t be denied.”

The World Heritage com­mittee is meeting in Paris from 19 to 29 June. Plans to convene in March in Bahrain were cancelled owing to regional unrest.

The committee did not publicly announce the rejection of the Palestinian bid, but has announced that it will consider 42 nominations of cultural and natural sites, including those from Bahrain (the cultural landscape created by the pearling industry), Israel (Land of Caves and Hiding, and The Triple-Arch Gate at Dan), Iran (Harra Protected Area), Jordan (Wadi Rum valley), Saudi Arabia (the Historical City of Jeddah), Syria (the ancient villages of North Syria), Turkey (the Old City and Ramparts of Alanya with Seljuk Shipyard, and the 16th-century Selimiye Mosque and its social complex in Edirne) and the United Arab Emirates (four cultural sites within the city of Al Ain).

The other 31 nominations are from countries including Argentina, Australia, Benin, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, France, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Slovenia, Sudan, Syria, and Vietnam.

To date, 911 natural and cultural properties of “outstanding universal value” in 151 countries have been inscribed on the World Heritage List. Italy has the greatest number of sites on the list.

At the June meeting, the committee will also review the state of conservation of 34 sites being considered for inclusion on the Unesco List of World Heritage in Danger.

In related news, though Palestinians have not been able to nominate sites to Unesco World Heritage lists, a Palestinian village and its 3,000-year-old terraced olive groves, springs and ancient ruins was co-awarded the Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes by Unesco-Greece. The Battir Cultural Landscape near Bethlehem, together with the Historical and Cultural Museum-Reservation of Garni in Armenia, the site of ruins from the Bronze through Hellenic and early Christian periods, were awarded $15,000 each at a ceremony in Paris on 24 May.

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