(Tourists walk outside the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem October 10, 2011/Ammar Awad)

The Palestinians will seek World Heritage status for the birthplace of Jesus once the U.N. cultural agency admits them as a full member, and will then nominate other sites on Israeli-occupied land for the same standing, an official said. Hamdan Taha, a Palestinian Authority minister who deals with antiquities and culture, said UNESCO membership was the Palestinians’ natural right. He described as “regrettable” the objections of some governments including the United States.

UNESCO’s board decided last week to let member states vote on a Palestinian application for full membership, seen as part of a Palestinian drive opposed by Israel and the United States for recognition as a state in the U.N. system.

“UNESCO membership carries a message of justice and rights. Why must the Palestinians be left outside the international system?” Taha said. “I see it as crowning long efforts over the past 20 years.”

He said that after gaining full UNESCO membership, the Palestinians will revive their bid to secure World Heritage status for Bethlehem and its Church of the Nativity, revered as the birthplace of Jesus. The nomination was rejected this year because the Palestinians were not a full UNESCO member. “This is a simple example of how Palestine has not been able to preserve its cultural heritage through the tools granted to every state in the world,” Taha said.