Sunday, July 29, 2012

July 1967: The United Nations in Jerusalem

On the 10th of July 1967 the Cabinet set up a committee to figure out what to do with the UN headquarters in Jerusalem. It was a prickly subject.

Government House was built by the British at the beginning of the 1930s, and opened in 1933.
According to Noam Dvir, a reporter for Haaretz who was recently there with a photographer, it's one of the most impressive buildings in Jerusalem. If you read Hebrew, I recommend his report. If you don't, I recommend the many photographs in the report. The ocasion for his article was the intention of the UN to invest millions of dollars in a major renovation of the building. From which you understand that the UN owns the building.

This was not always obvious. It was built for the British High Commissioner, before there was a United Nations. At the end of the 1948 war, neither the Israelis nor the Jordanians controlled the highest hill in southern Jerusalem on which it stands, and when the city was divided it remained in no-mans-land, the only remnant, perhaps, of the idea of a Corpus Separandum.

In the summer of 1967, when Israel decided to annex Jerusalem, the UN headquarters at Government House posed a problem. On the one hand, as Moshe Dayan told his fellow ministers, we can't say we're the sovereign in Jerusalem without behaving as a sovereign, and that includes agreeing with the UN on the status of their building in our sovereign territory. On the other hand, as Justice Minister Yaakov Shimshon Shapira and others recognized, the UN was hardly about to sign an agreement with Israel accepting the building for its use, since that would entail UN recognition. And so the ministers went back and forth, seeking a resolution which would satisfy all sides. Eventually they decided to write the UN Secretary General that Israel was putting the building and its gardens (but not the large surrounding area) at the disposal of the UN, and would not insist on a contract or even an official confirmation. We know all this because we've just declassified the stenogram of the meeting, which took place on the morning of July 10th 1967.

Menachem Begin alone insisted that the letter say specifically that the Israeli government was putting "its building" at the disposal of the UN. The following morning there was a vote on his version in the full cabinet, and he lost.

The document of July 10th is in file א-7910/30
The document of July 11 in in file ג-12796/12

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