Israel on Sunday announced the addition of two sites in the occupied West Bank on its list of national heritage sites, in a move that is expected to ignite controversy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a special cabinet meeting in the northern town of Tel Hai that the “Cave of the Patriarchs” in Hebron and “Rachel’s Tomb” in Bethlehem would be included on the list of around 150 sites that the government plans to promote.
Israel’s existence, he said, depended not only on its defence force or its economic resilience, but also on its “ability to justify our connection to the land”, Mr. Netanyahu said.
“Rachel’s Tomb” is regarded as the Biblical grave of the wife of Jacob, who is buried at the “Cave of the Patriarchs”, along with Abraham, known to Muslims as Ibrahim, and regarded as patriarch by Muslims, Jews and Christians.
According to media reports, the cost to preserve the 150 heritage sites would be in the region of 400 million shekels ($106 million).
Israeli ministers endorsed the plan unanimously. Mr. Netanyahu was seen to bow to pressure from right-wing politicians and the country’s settlers’ lobby to include the two sites in the Palestinian-administered West Bank on the list at the last minute.
Palestinians want to include the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as East Jerusalem in their future state. The presence of Israeli settlers in the West Bank is considered an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace.