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Banbury Cross

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Post details: Jerusalem


When two peoples lay a claim to the same chunk of land, problems often ensue. And I am not just talking about quarreling whether to plant wheat or tobacco in the tillage.

Imagine that Native Indians declared the whole West to be the Sacred Dirt of Quietly Slumbering Chieftains and moved in to take control of all territories that once used to be theirs. Imagine they created large refugee camps on the West Bank of Mississippi and on the Las Vegas Strip and gradually besieged sprawling urban areas with new teepee settlements. That would surely stir up some action among descendants of hunky Anglo-Saxon settlers who moved into that same area several centuries ago.

When Israeli commandos stormed the Turkish-flagged ship Mavi Marmara that was carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, the eyes of the whole world turned again to that precious piece of desert surrounding the Dead Sea, that largely inhospitable terrain which both Israelis and Palestinians consider their historical homeland.

Their decades long effort to conjure up a semblance of peaceful coexistence has been repeatedly marred by religious and ethnic hostilities and, over the years, became reduced to diplomatic equivalent of wishful thinking. Smack in the center of their disagreements lies Jerusalem, one of the oldest capitals in the world, a city so ridden and riddled with divine presence that you can't throw a rock there without hitting a notorious shrine. That, of course, makes any negotiations harder, because liturgical and spiritual aspects of our existence have deep roots in our soul.

When I was reading about the circumstances accompanying the creation of the Jewish state, I stumbled upon an interesting document: United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) - Future Government of Palestine from 29 November 1947. In plain terms, the resolution suggested termination of the British mandate over Palestine and recommended that the contentious Jerusalem-Bethlehem area be placed "under special international protection, administered by the United Nations".

Sometimes long forgotten solutions deserve second chances. And this one sounds so tantalizing that I would dare to push it a bit further. Why not make Jerusalem the seat of the United Nations? Can you see the UNESCO buildings next to the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, or al-Aqsa Mosque? I can. If there ever was a place on Earth deserving to be the unofficial Capital of the World, it is Jerusalem. What other city lies at the intersection of three major religions and sports a municipal history four millennia deep? In my book, you don't get more natural authority beyond that. And placing the venerable metropolis on the center stage of global politics would have several other advantages.

1. Many new and aspiring powers (EU, China, Russia, India) like to grumble about the americentric bias of the United Nations that has been painfully visualized by placing the organization on the banks of the East River. Such domicile may be convenient, but it gives rise to the perception that UN is but an extended arm of Washington DC. Relocating its headquarters and facilities into a neutral area would create a more realistic illusion of an Arthurian round table, where no single nation is being favored.

2. Many of the tensions in the Middle East stem from hardship and lack of economic opportunities. Building a necessary infrastructure for such grandiose project would bring an economic boom to the region. Thousands of jobs and higher standard of living that would come with it would put a soothing gauze on the festering wound of the Palestinian issue. Economically sated nations have usually less reason to quarrel with their neighbors.

3. Israel's main concern is for the safety of its young state. With Jerusalem becoming a de facto heart of the world, it would be self-defeating and outright suicidal to even ponder terrorism in this area. Any individual of group that would dare to inflict damage anywhere within this fiercely protected district would be faced with swift and severe consequences from the whole international community.

Sooner or later Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu will have to sit down and mull over the possibilities. I hope they will have enough sense to also consult history. Critics might argue that times have changed since 1947, but didn't Ancient Romans used to say: "Historia magistra vitae est"?


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