Despite strong opposition from the United States, the Palestinians are seeking full membership in UNESCO - the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which is currently meeting in Paris. The move jeopardizes America’s funding for the organization.
It is Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, where millions of pilgrims and tourists visit the Church of the Nativity each year, built over the site tradition says is the birthplace of Christ.
Palestinians have asked UNESCO to make this a World Heritage site, but without a Palestinian state they say that can't happen.
So the Palestinians have asked UNESCO for full membership, following September’s request to be admitted to the United Nations.
Maen Rashid Areikat, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s representative to the U.S., said “Part of that is to complement what we are doing at the United Nations and secondly, because we really want to preserve our own religious and cultural sites.”
UNESCO’s executive board gave initial approval to the Palestinian’s request, despite opposition from the United States.
“I think that they believe that this is a way to advance their cause. I think they are wrong," said Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute.“The problem is that peace is not going to come out of a bottle. It is not going to come out of a process at the U.N. It is going to come out of a negotiated agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians and this step is not on that road.”
UNESCO promotes education and arts in developing countries, such as Afghanistan.
Palestinian membership could trigger a cut off in U.S. contributions to UNESCO, more than $70 million per year, about 20 percent of its budget.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said “The problem here is that a move in UNESCO is not going to create a Palestinian state that is secure, living next to Israel in security, in self-determination and in mutual recognition.”
Twenty years of talks with Israel have failed to produce a Palestinian state.
PLO representative Maen Rashid Areikat said “Going to the U.N. is a diplomatic, political, nonviolent, legitimate effort on the part of the Palestinians to have the U.N. address Palestinian concerns and once and for all put an end to the Israeli occupation.”
The Palestinians hope full membership in UNESCO and recognition of the Church of the Nativity as a World Heritage site will bring them closer to becoming an independent state.