Nuns walk outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
Nuns walk outside the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

The Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities on Monday made a formal nomination for Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, to be listed in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites, hoping for a boost in tourism and earn Palestine UN’s recognition of a state.

If Bethlehem, located in the West Bank region of Palestine, wins the bid, it will be the first world heritage site in Palestinian region, the authorities said. Final decision from the UNESCO is expected next year.

We are very proud to announce that we have submitted the nomination file of Bethlehem: birthplace of Jesus – Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route to the World Heritage Centre, tourism minister Khulud Daibes was quoted as saying in media.

According to officials, Palestine had made a bid before also for the inclusion of Church of the Nativity in UNESCO’s list of the world's most important cultural sites. However, since Palestine is not yet an UN-recognized state, the bid was not considered.

“The key problem here is that Palestine is not a state party to the convention,” Louise Haxthausen, UNESCO chief in Ramallah, told media.

The Israel-Palestine conflict has also been an obstacle for Bethlehem’s any such nomination. Last year, despite agreeing on movement of tourists between Israel and Palestine, UNESCO’s decision to include Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in a program to renovate historical sites, was criticized by Israel, which has already six of its sites listed as heritage sites.

While Daibes said that the nomination is a part of the campaign to build a Palestinian state, tourism experts are hoping for a surge in arrivals post Bethlehem’s inclusion in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list.

According to official data, Bethlehem received over a million tourists in 2008, and more than two million visitors are expected in 2011. A World Heritage Site tag will definitely bring more tourists in 2012.