(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
On May 29, 1948, the UN Security Council decided that the truce the UN declared that day (it actually began on June 11, and lasted 28 days) between the Jews and Arabs in the newly created Israel should be supervised by Count Folke Bernadotte, with the assistance of a group of military observers. The group became known as the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO).
It arrived in time for the 1949 Armistice Agreements negotiated by Bernadotte’s successor, Ralph Bunche, after the former was assassinated by the Lehi – aka the Stern Gang – in Jerusalem in September 1948.
The underground Jewish group feared the UN would accept Bernadotte’s recommendation that Palestine and Transjordan be reformed as “a Union, comprising two Members, one Arab and one Jewish,” each controlling its own affairs, including foreign relations.
In fact, the Ben-Gurion government had already rejected it, in favor of the count’s second proposal of two independent states. The Lehi regarded Bernadotte as an agent of the hated British and their Arab allies, failing to appreciate his bid for peace in the Middle East.
His second proposal, delivered shortly before his murder, included two principles that still apply today: “A Jewish State called Israel exists in Palestine and there are no sound reasons for assuming that it will not continue to do so,” and, “The boundaries of this new State must finally be fixed either by formal agreement between the parties concerned or failing that, by the United Nations.”
It was widely alleged that Lehi leader Yitzhak Yezernitsky, later known as prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, had ordered the murder, but no suspect was ever prosecuted.
The statute of limitations for the murder expired in 1971.
While UNTSO headquarters was eventually established in the prime Jerusalem location of Armon Hatziv, spectacularly overlooking the City of David and the Temple Mount, it initially was located in Cairo before moving to Haifa. During its long tenure on the expansive Jerusalem site, UNTSO has supplied peacekeepers to real areas of conflict, such as Lebanon and Syria, where their record speaks for itself.
In addition, UNTSO has military observers on the Golan Heights and in Sinai. They will no doubt join the world in celebrating the upcoming International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers on May 29, UNTSO’s 60th anniversary.
It is time for Israel to acknowledge the total lack of necessity in UNTSO’s presence in Jerusalem, where there is no truce to supervise and real estate is at a premium in a country desperately short of housing.
The recent absurd vote by another redundant UN organization, UNESCO, denying the Jewish people’s link to its ancient and future capital, has brought Israel’s rocky relationship with the world body under question yet again.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week directed the Foreign Ministry to cut another $1 million from Israel’s annual UN dues in response to UNESCO’s “delusional” vote disavowing Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. Similar cuts following Security Council and Human Rights Council resolutions have reduced Israel’s contribution this year to only $2.7m., instead of the $11.7m. that was originally earmarked.
There has never been a better time for the prime minister to flex his muscular diplomacy and reevaluate the necessity of all these UN-mandated and irrelevant organizations in Israel.
Israel has been the sovereign ruler over Jerusalem for the last 50 years. There is no longer a need for monitors over a truce that no longer needs monitoring.
Giving less money to a hostile organization whose constituent bodies deny Israel’s sovereignty is a welcome start, but it might not be enough. Israel can use this opportunity as well as the upcoming 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, to emphasize to the world that having UNTSO monitors in its capital city is a totally unnecessary measure that has dragged on for far too long.
Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital for thousands of years and is going to stay that way. Although there is still a welcome role for the UN to play in the volatile region, it’s time for it to understand that Jerusalem is no longer the war zone it was in 1948.