Palestinians ask U.N. recognition for Nativity church

Mon Feb 7, 2011 10:38am EST
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By Douglas Hamilton

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) - Unlike the Sydney Opera House or the Statue of Liberty, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, one of the holiest places in Christendom, is not on UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites.

It lies inside the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Palestinians, with no state of their own, do not enjoy the full U.N. membership to secure United Nations recognition.

Monday, they announced plans to rectify what the U.N. cultural agency agrees is a glaring anomaly that has placed the church -- built 1,700 years ago over the grotto where Jesus is believed to have been born -- in international limbo.

"This step is part and parcel of our plan to end the (Israeli) occupation and establish a state," said Palestinian Authority Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Khouloud Daibes, presenting a formal submission to the UNESCO heritage committee.

"This is a message of our determination," she told a news conference marking the first Palestinian bid for a place on UNESCO's list, which over the past 40 years has denoted more than 900 sites of "outstanding universal value to humanity."

The bid was discussed at UNESCO headquarters in Paris last week by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who since 2009 has driven a campaign to establish all the attributes and institutions of Palestinian statehood by September this year.

The number of U.N. member states that now recognize Palestine has risen to 110 over recent months, more than half the total U.N. membership of 192.

Talks with Israel to end the Middle East conflict and create a Palestinian state by mutual treaty have been suspended for five months. Palestinian leaders say they are considering a statehood initiative at the U.N. General Assembly in September.   Continued...

<p>A clergy member waits ahead of the Armenian Christmas procession in Manger square outside the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem January 18, 2011. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside</p>