UNESCO's decision to add the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to the list of World heritage sites paves the way for other Palestinian sites to apply for similar status, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee has claimed. Hanna Amira, who is also the head of the supreme presidential commission for ecclesiastical affairs, said that listed status would provide international protection to Palestine's Christian and Muslim sites, maintain, preserve and defend them.
A majority of delegates at UNESCO's thirty-sixth meeting on Friday agreed to the inclusion of the Church of the Nativity on the World Heritage list. The meeting was held in St Petersburg, Russia.
According to Amira, the decision is very positive for the Palestinian cause. "It creates an appropriate atmosphere for submitting a request for non-state membership of the General Assembly," he said. He referred to American and Israeli opposition to UNESCO's decision on political grounds; they believe that it will encourage further recognition of Palestine in other international institutions.
Amira clarified the position of church leaders who do not, he said, get involved in political affairs, and that this is the role of the Palestinian Authority. He pointed out that a month ago the PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, reassured the heads of the Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian Churches, which share the Church of the Nativity, that the status quo at the site will not change, and that there will be no interference by UNESCO in church affairs or its spiritual sovereignty.
"The representatives of the churches received the President's message positively," he noted, adding that the PA intends to apply for the inclusion of 20 or more other Palestinian sites on the World Heritage list.
Mr. Amira blamed the Israeli occupation authorities for all the difficulties faced by the Palestinians when it comes to the maintenance of churches, mosques and other historic places of worship which are an integral part of the Palestinian cultural and social fabric and form part of the heritage of the whole of humanity.