Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Tuesday that he will not include the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem to a list of national heritage sites scheduled to be renovated as part of the government’s National Heritage Plan.
The two sites are located in the West Bank and are viewed as part of a power struggle between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Netanyahu’s initial decision, in 2010, to include the holy sites in the Heritage Plan received a lot of fanfare in Israel. But the United States called the move “provocative” and UNESCO said it was “concerned” that the step could aggravate regional tensions.
Netanyahu’s office clarified that the sites were not included on Tuesday’s list of 13 sites because they were not in need of critical funding. However, they are still part of the comprehensive list of Jewish heritage sites, a list that includes 65 initiatives.
“During the meeting, it was made clear that Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs are on the list of the heritage sites of the Jewish People and that their location, importance and centrality will not be infringed on,” read a media statement issued by Netanyahu.
Netanyahu’s move was received coolly by right-wing factions of his coalition. Rabbi-Professor Daniel Hershkowitz, Science and Technology Minister and head of the Habayit Hayehudi party, issued an immediate appeal to Netanyahu.
“These sites already receive government funds for development and maintenance, and their inclusion will not require a change in budget allocations,” Hershkowitz stated, according to Arutz Sheva.
He added that the sites are deeply rooted in Jewish tradition, and that the Palestinians are trying to claim the sites as their own.
The Palestinian Authority became a member of UNESCO in October 2010 and is vying to include these same sites on a list it proposed for World Heritage status.
The PA pursued a bid for diplomatic recognition at the United Nations in 2010 — a move which has so far been stymied. Its entrance to UNESCO came in the course of that diplomatic bid. Israel and the United States responded to the PA’s UNESCO membership by cutting off their funding to the organization.