Tuesday, December 18, 2012

1957: The UN Gnaws at Israeli Sovereignty

As noted earlier this week, only once between 1956 and 1958 was there a discussion of any real interest in the Ministers' Committee for Foreign Affairs and Security - but it was very interesting. The most interesting part of all was when Foreign Minister Golda Meir reported about tensions with the United Nations.

Background: in those early years of the UN, it seems to have played a larger role in war-zone mediation than it does today, as can be seen, for example, by the short official biography of the UN General Secretary of the day, Dag Hammarskjöld. Moreover, in the Mideast, the UN Truce Supervision Organisation in Palestine (UNTSO) seems to have had a significantly weightier status than its present-day descendants. Its acting chief of staff in 1958, the American Colonel Byron V. Leary, was assumed, at least by the Israelis, to be acting on direct and frequent orders of Hammerskjold. Finally, the armistice agreements of 1949 had left some patches of territory inside Israel's borders as demilitarized zones.

Golda and her colleagues were convinced that the UN was trying to undermine Israeli sovereignty in those areas (which were within the 1967 borders, of course). So, August 11th 1957:
Golda Meir: For a while now there's been tension and a sort of struggle with the UN officials including with Mr. Hammarskjold. Recently however, Hammarskjold has stepped back a bit and he operates through Leary. General [Eedson] Burns [Leary's predecessor, whom we've already met here] fulfiled Hammarskjold's orders, but he did so with charm. Leary doesn't know how to do that.
It's clear that Hammarskjold intends to demonstrate with facts that the demilitarized zones are not the same as the rest of Israel. His position is that these areas have a special status, and the UN has enhanced authority in them. He's never said so openly, nor has he asked us to agree with him, but his actions make clear that he sees it that way, for example when he insists that UN observers enjoy greater independence in those areas and need not liaise with IDF officers.
Recently he [Leary] wanted to station observers above the [B'not Yaacov] Bridge [over the Jordan River on the Syrian border]. We said: no, there's no need. He said, OK, so there will be visits of observers. We agreed to visits. So what did he do? He came one day and announced  he'd put an observer there. Joseph Tekoa, of the Foreign Ministry, responded: What do you mean you're announcing. You must ask. He [Leary] said it's demilitarized and he was announcing, not asking. Tekoa told him that wouldn't work and brought the matter to me. Of course we told [Leary] there was no such option: no observers and no special authority in that area. He went back to saying observers would visit. I said OK. What's he doing now? First an observer stood there an hour then left. A bit later, another one came and stood there an hour. Now he has them standing there four hours, to be replaced by someone else for four hours. We told him again we would not allow it to become an observer's position.
Our problem is that no outsider will understand what we're quarreling with them for. Possibly even some Israelis won't understand.
Justice Minister Pinchas Rosenne: I'm one of those.
Golda Meir: I'm surprised at you. At a different place, we quarreled with them about another little detail. They wanted to raise the UN flag over one of the positions. One of our officers was positioned there too. We said it's Israeli territory, there's an IDF officer there, there's no way you're going to fly the UN flag. There's no precedent for such behavior. If you insist on a UN flag, there will be an Israeli flag above it. They said no, that would anger the Syrians. We said Fine, so no flag at all. So they raised the UN flag, and when we saw that we raised our flag above it. He was angry and reported to Hammarskjold, who must also have been angry. They took their flag down, and then we took ours down, too. Then he wanted his observers to spend the night there. We said we don't see any sense in that but if they wish, fine. Leary then said the overnight observers must be armed. We said none of them are armed anywhere else in the country and they won't be armed there either... What Hammarskjold is trying to achieve is that the demilitarized zone isn't under full Israeli sovereignty, and once he succeeds at that he'll apply the same reasoning to the demilitarized zone on the Egyptian border.
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1 comment:

  1. "First" here: - Fist an observer stood there.

    At least [sic] it.