Symbolic Relocation of United Nations HQ to Jerusalem Vicinity
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 11 Dec 2017
Revitalization of Middle East Peace Process Enabled by US-Israel Initiative
Revisiting an argument variously presented previously (Merits of Moving the UN HQ to Baghdad, April 2003; Build the Wall — Move the UN HQ? United Nations principles are not consistent with “America First”, January 2017)
11 Dec 2017 – The recently elected President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, has made the historic decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. This highly controversial initiative offers an unprecedented opportunity to reframe the Middle East peace process and the highly problematic relations between Israel and Palestine, originally engendered by the United Nations in envisaging its own administration of Jerusalem as a corpus separatum. These relations have a particular focus in the symbolic status of Jerusalem for the Abrahamic religions. Provision for such a relocation had originally been made by the Jerusalem Embassy Act passed by the 104th Congress of the US (23 October 1995).
The controversial implications of the Judeo-Christian recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — highly contested by those of Muslim faith around the world — can be fruitfully reframed by a counter-intuitive balancing strategy with its own symbolic significance. It is of course impractical to move the United Nations Headquarters to Jerusalem itself. The spatial, political and logistic issues are already far too complex.
It is however possible to move the UN Secretariat to a location in the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem — effectively to a “suburb” on its periphery in the West Bank, or even in Jordan — enabling various access corridors consistent with the geopolitical situation. Much of that area is now under Israeli control, or else under joint Israeli-Palestinian Authority control — with the final status yet to be determined by the parties concerned. Although seemingly with their own challenges, any such location would have particular advantages as variously perceived by Israelis, Palestinians or Jordanians — whether or not these perceptions are in contradiction with one another. For the Abrahamic religions, for example, it is through the promise of the land to Abraham that “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 22:18). Given the symbolic role claimed for Jerusalem, the association of such a relocation of the UN with “Next year in Jerusalem” (L’Shana Haba’ah) is consistent with a common theme in Jewish culture — the desire to return to a rebuilt Jerusalem.
In contrast with the rapidly escalating security and logistical challenges of reaching the UN via New York airports, the new Amman Airport has been recognized by the Airport Council as the best airport in the Middle East. The distance between Jerusalem and Amman is only 72 km. The proposed location of the UN HQ could well be closer to the centre of Jerusalem than will prove to be feasible for the relocation of the US Embassy to “Jerusalem”. Monorail links could be readily envisaged in order to reframe territorial issues.
For the United Nations, as a symbol of world peace, where does the UN HQ need to be? Where does it need not to be? Where does it need to be in the light of what it stands for — now and in the future? Can the UN afford to be perceived as a “back-seat driver” when the challenges are elsewhere? Is the UN Security Council to be seen as cultivating the legitimacy and convictions of drone pilots courageously directing their social transformation projects from afar?
In the earlier argument, made prior to the full implications of the UN-sanctioned intervention in Iraq, it was speculatively suggested that the HQ of the UN should be moved to the Green Zone in Baghdad (Merits of Moving the UN HQ to Baghdad (April 2003). With minor amendments, the text of that argument has been included below, since many of the associated points remain of relevance.
It has been alleged that the United Nations could be asked to move its headquarters out of New York within two years if the new Republican-dominated Congress has its way (Masood Haider, US Congress bill proposes relocation of UN HQ, Dawn, 25 January 2017). Where might the UN HQ be more appropriately located — given that the Green Zone argument is no longer relevant? Should it be reintegrated with the HQ of its predecessor in Geneva — the Palace of Nations of the League of Nations? This has served as the home of the United Nations Office at Geneva since 1946. The UN continues to hold meetings there and has a range of secretariat functions there. In 2012 alone, the Palace of Nations hosted more than 10,000 intergovernmental meetings .
A number of advantages of relocating the UN HQ are noted below. Beyond the symbolic advantage, matching the Judeo-Christian recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, is the particular advantage of the location on the outskirts of Jerusalem given the relatively soluble logistic and political issues. Insights have been provided by experience in other divided cities. The fact that a proportion of the personnel of the UN Regional HQ in Geneva travel daily from France is an indication of possibilities.
Especially interesting would be exploring feasibility for those living in Israel, Jordan or Palestine in travelling to offices located in the West Bank or Jordan — however close to Jerusalem proves feasible. There is even the symbolically significant possibility of locating UN offices on a contested border with entrances from several sides. Located where the Swiss, French and German borders meet, the city of Basel also has suburbs in France and Germany. The organization of the central railway station addresses a number of issues relevant to 3-way travel and border control.
Whilst any suggestion to move the UN HQ is in many respects “outrageous”, it should not be forgotten that the current period is one of outrage — whether as articulated by Donald Trump, by those who oppose him. Similar concerns have been articulated by the Occupy Movement — as an international sociopolitical movement against social inequality and lack of “real democracy” around the world, with the primary goal being to advance social and economic justice and new forms of democracy. Its preoccupations were remarkably framed by Stéphane Hessel (Time for Outrage! 2010).
It could be said that Donald Trump has succeeded to date through being “outrageous” — as with the proposal to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel . The Occupy Movement could be accused of “not being outrageous enough” — as with the massive “movement of resistance” in opposition to the policies he has articulated. Ironically the US Ambassador to the UN declared during an emergency meeting of the Security Council following the decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem that that organization “has outrageously been one of the world’s foremost centres of hostility towards Israel” (Jerusalem: Trump’s envoy Haley berates ‘outrageous UN hostility’, BBC News, 8 December 2017). Moving the UN could be one example of appropriate initiatives in response to those in process of implementation by the USA. Others could be considered, as discussed separately (Responding outrageously to the outrageous, 2017).
In terms of political credibility, those critical of the current US proposal to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel are likely to favour relocation of the UN to its immediate neighbourhood — despite having been previously indifferent to any such move at all.
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