Identity theft, in most jurisdictions, is a punishable offense. But in the United Nations, Palestinians are free — indeed, encouraged — to rob Israel of its history, heritage, and homeland.

At times the United Nations seems to exist for no reason other than to stoke Palestinian fantasies. UNRWA, its benevolent Relief and Works Agency created solely for Palestinian refugees,” was established after the 1948 war when Israel secured its independence and Palestinians proclaimed their eternal dependence.

During the fighting instigated by five Arab nations, 700,000 Palestinians abandoned their homes, some in fear of the Israeli army and others in obedience to the instructions of their own leaders. (A similar number of Jews, expelled from Arab countries, found safe refuge in Israel.) By now, the number of Palestinian “refugee” claimants is nearly 5 million, all of whom receive UNRWA funding and none of whom seem inclined to leave their refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, or even the West Bank and Gaza, which Palestinians control.

The Arab states, in conjunction with the U.N., decided that it was better that Palestinians fester in poverty, misery, and rage (at Israel) than be absorbed as citizens of the nations where they reside. By now nearly 30,000 UNRWA workers have a vested interest in preserving their own jobs, which require that Palestinians remain unprepared for life outside their refugee camps.

If UNRWA has functioned as the world’s largest welfare scam, it is about to be joined by UNESCO, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It recently approved a Palestinian membership bid even though — unlike all other UNESCO members — the Palestinians are not a state and show few signs of taking meaningful steps to become one.

UNESCO exists to identify and conserve sites of international cultural significance, a worthy objective. But it is about to be rolled by the Palestinian Authority, which — hardly coincidentally — claims Jewish (and even Christian) holy sites as its own. Just last year the Palestinian Authority claimed the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, from which it has driven away most Arab Christians, as a heritage site. It insisted — predictably — that Jesus was a Palestinian. But the PA was not then a UNESCO member, and its request was denied.

With Palestinian membership in UNESCO voted for overwhelmingly at the end of October, the Palestinians are prepared to resume their plundering of Jewish history. At the top of their list of “Palestinian” sites deserving of world heritage status are the tombs of the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people in Hebron. Along with Rachel’s tomb outside Bethlehem, and Joseph’s tomb in Nablus (biblical Shechem), these were among the most revered Jewish holy sites in the world for two millennia before the birth of Muhammad and the rise of Islam. They still are.

Now, in its most fanciful claim, the Palestinian Authority is prepared to request that UNESCO designate the Dead Sea as Palestine’s own “heritage site.” What the Palestinian historical claims to the Dead Sea might be are undisclosed. The famous Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in the caves near Qumran at the northern edge of the Dead Sea, comprise nearly one thousand biblical texts and other ancient Jewish documents recounting Jewish life in the centuries preceding the destruction of the Second Temple — millennia before the appearance of Palestinians.

The Palestinian Authority has yet to reveal any historical connection of its people to the Dead Sea for the simple reason that there is none. But its minister of tourism has indicated that its claim would confirm Palestinian ownership of part of the Dead Sea, thereby preventing Israel, which has developed its western shore and environs, from claiming full control.

Plundering Jewish history and claiming Israeli land is, of course, the raison d’être of Palestinian existence. It is nothing new; Palestiniannational identity has always been built on the foundation of biblical and Zionist sources. Shortly before the birth of the State of Israel, a prominent Arab historian conceded: “There is no such thing as Palestine in history.”

Without a history of their own, Palestinians have pillaged Jewish history to create an imaginary national narrative. They cite the biblical Canaanites as their ancient ancestors and embrace Ishmael, born to Abraham’s servant Hagar, as their “biblical” forebear. The “right of return” of Palestinian refugees, predictably, is modeled after the Israeli Right of Return extended to Jews everywhere by the Knesset in 1950.

Claiming the Land of Israel and the history of the Jewish people as their own, Palestinians have engaged in nothing less than identity theft. Their leaders inhabit a land of their imagination, no less fanciful than Oz, Wonderland, or Shangri-La. And, with their remarkable penchant for damaging their own cause — never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, as Abba Eban memorably said — they have now deprived UNESCO of its $60-million annual payment from the United States, prohibited by law from funding an international organization that includes “Palestine” as a member before peace is negotiated with Israel.

Despite the shameless complicity of UNRWA, UNESCO, and the United Nations itself, Palestinian fantasies of seizing Jewish history in the Land of Israel are unlikely to float — even on the Dead Sea.

Jerold S. Auerbach, professor emeritus of history at Wellesley College, blogs at