UN Nativity Decision Bid to Undermine Israel

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity is at the center of a fight between Israelis and Palestinians. UNESCO recently declared the church an endangered World Heritage Site in "Palestine."

Palestinians celebrated the move, delighted that the U.N. officially recognized Palestine in its decision.

"It is the beginning," Salam Fayyad, prime minister of the Palestinian National Authority, said. "And with this recognition we see it as a step in the direction of full recognition of our rights, full rights to a fully sovereign state on the territory occupied in 1967."

Israelis and evangelical Christians are upset by UNESCO's decision, saying the move isn't about protecting the landmark but about de-legitimizing their country.

"The Church of the Nativity is being manipulated by the Palestinians all in order to score some more propaganda points against Israel," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

He added that Palestinians arranged the situation to falsely blame Israel for endangering the church.

"We don't object to site being included on the World Heritage Site because the World Heritage sites list implies UNESCO funding for restoration, preservation works, and so on and so," he said.

Last year, the United States cut $60 million in funding to UNESCO after it admitted Palestine as a full member, a status reserved for officially recognized countries.

David Parsons, with the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, said Palestinians have a built-in U.N. majority for what he calls "The Flat Earth Society."

"If they proposed the Earth was flat, most nations would vote for it," Parsons said. "They're anti-Israel and a lot of U.N. forums, they're able to pass all sorts of resolutions that de-legitimize Israel and by-pass the peace talks.

In Christian tradition, the church was built over the area of Jesus Christ's birth. Some 2 million tourists visited last year.

"Of course this benefit will include more tourists coming to visit Bethlehem," Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Maiah said.

Parsons disagreed.

"This decision is not going to bring more or less tourists to Bethlehem," he said. "The main gage of that is whether Christians, pilgrims in the land, feel safe and that is a matter of whether the Palestinians want to cease terrorism and violence against Israel."

The situation could get worse. Palestinians have a poor record in taking care of Jewish and Christian holy sites. 

They have also claimed some Jewish sites as mosques. Experts say the UNESCO move also sets a precedent for putting other biblical sites under Palestinian control.

Meanwhile, Israel expressed its shock over another UNESCO move this week to established a chair at the Islamic University of Gaza.

Israel said the university is known as a "greenhouse and breeding ground for Hamas terrorists."

According to a statement, the dean of Koranic Studies at the school called for the Islamic conquest of the Vatican and Spain last month.

*Originally aired July 16, 2012.

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