Unesco votes to list West Bank city of Jericho as World Heritage Site

Tourists visit the pre-historic site of Tell al-Sultan, near the Palestinian city of Jericho (AFP via Getty Images)
Tourists visit the pre-historic site of Tell al-Sultan, near the Palestinian city of Jericho (AFP via Getty Images)

A UN conference has voted to list ruins of the ancient West Bank city of Jericho as a World Heritage Site in Palestine, a decision that has angered Israel, which controls the territory and does not recognise a Palestinian state.

Jericho is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities on earth, and is in a part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank that is administered by the internationally-recognised Palestinian Authority.

The listing refers to the Tel es-Sultan archaeological site nearby, which contains ruins dating back to the 9th millennium BC

The decision was taken at a meeting of the UN World Heritage Committee in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, under the auspices of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

Israel's foreign ministry released a statement that said the listing was a "cynical" ploy by the Palestinians to politicise Unesco, and that Israel will work with its allies to reverse what it says are the organisation's "distorted" decisions.

Israel quit Unesco in 2019, accusing it of being biased against it and of diminishing its connection to the Holy Land. Israel also objected to Unesco's acceptance of Palestine as a member state in 2011. But Israel remains a party to the World Heritage Convention, and it sent a delegation to the meeting in Riyadh.

Israel captured the West Bank, along with Gaza and east Jerusalem, in the 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinians want all three territories for their future state. Israel views the West Bank as the biblical and cultural heartland of the Jewish people.

There have been no serious or substantive peace negotiations in over a decade, and Israel is currently led by the most nationalist and religious government in its history, making any move towards Palestinian statehood nearly unimaginable.

The modern city of Jericho is a major draw for tourism to the Palestinian territories, both because of its historical sites and proximity to the Dead Sea. In 2021, the Palestinian Authority unveiled major renovations to one of the largest mosaics in the Middle East, in a Jericho palace dating back to the 8th century.

The Palestinian Authority, recognised a decade ago by the United Nations as a non-member observer state, welcomed the designation.

President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that it "testifies to the authenticity and history of the Palestinian people," adding that "the state of Palestine is committed to preserving this unique site for the benefit of mankind".