By Reuters

The Dead Sea will be eliminated next week from a contest to choose the seven natural wonders of the world, because of a Palestinian boycott over the participation of an Israeli settler council.

The New 7 Wonders of Nature is a global Internet contest under the slogan: “If we want to save anything, we first need to truly appreciate it.” In 2007 it chose the new seven man-made wonders of the world.

Its rules state that if a nominee site is located in more than one country, all countries in which it is located must form an Official Supporting Committee (OSC) by July 7.

Israel and Jordan have both done so for the Dead Sea, which they share, but the Palestinian Authority has decided against.

For the Dead Sea, a win would highlight the environmental threat to a unique lake which has shrunk dramatically in the past 30 years due to human exploitation of the Jordan River feed waters and Dead Sea mineral extraction.

“We will not be forming a committee,” Palestinian Tourism Minister Khouloud Douaibes told Reuters, because the Israeli committee “has been consulting with settler councilmen on occupied land and this contravenes international law”.

“Therefore, we are not interested in the issue,” she said reflecting a view that renders the contest and its potential benefits insignificant next to the Palestinians’ long struggle against settlers in their midst.

Unless there is a last-minute rethink by the Palestinians, the decision means the famously buoyant lake at the lowest point on Earth cannot advance to the next stage of the contest.

That is when Internet voters worldwide narrow down the field of 261 to 77, from which the final shortlist of 21 will be chosen ahead of the final vote in 2011, in which N7W predicts one billion electronic votes will be cast.

The Palestinian refusal was no surprise to interested Israelis who predicted months ago that the involvement of the Megilot Dead Sea Regional Council — which governs settlements — would prove a major obstacle to Palestinian participation.

“It’s very sad,” Megilot Dead Sea Council spokeswoman Gura Berger told Reuters. “The Dead Sea is so unique it’s beyond politics. Neither my kids nor Palestinian kids will be able to enjoy it if nothing is done to save it.”

Jordan benefited handsomely after the ancient ruins at Petra were voted a man-made Wonder of the World in 2007. Visits have more than doubled since it won the contest.

The Dead Sea’s water level is shrinking by 3.3 feet a year, according to a World Bank study.