Written by Nadia Hakim
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently added the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to its World Heritage List, with a vote of 13 to 6 at the World Heritage Committee meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia. The church is heralded as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, and is located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Israel and the U.S. strongly opposed the church’s listing and Palestine’s induction to UNESCO, fearing that it will lead to international recognition of a Palestinian state.
Palestine received recognition as a state by UNESCO and was granted full membership to the organization eight months ago. According to the U.S.’s laws, the U.S. government cannot fund any organization that recognizes Palestine as a state. According to its online reports in 2011, UNESCO received 22 percent of its funding from the U.S. government, and suffered a major blow when the laws were enforced.
Despite Israeli and American attempts to stunt Palestine’s attempts at statehood, Palestine is fully exercising its membership in UNESCO and receiving support from everywhere else.
Foreign aid shows no signs of slowing anytime soon. For instance, Japan is funding local schools and the construction of new health centers. Also, the EU remains the largest provider of development aid to Palestine since 1994.
USAID funds a number of building and highway projects, and carefully brands all of its supported projects in the West Bank, which may seem contradictory since it is a U.S. government agency.
In the fiscal 2013 budget, President Obama called for restoring aid to UNESCO and funding the agency 79 million dollars next year.
What is the U.S.’s next step? Will the Republican-controlled House of Representatives approve this funding?
Simultaneously, the church was placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger from damage caused by water leaks. According to UNESCO, putting a site on this list enables the World Heritage committee to “allocate immediate assistance from the World Heritage Fund to the endangered property.”
Photo Credit: “Morning at Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem” by annemarieangelo, available on Flickr