Israel Cannot Legally Expel UN From Jerusalem Site, Foreign Ministry to Tell Government

Right-wing minister demanded government discuss expelling UN from Jerusalem headquarters over UNESCO vote, but MFA objects to move and will stress the office actually houses UNSCO staff

FILE PHOTO: UN headquarters in Jerusalem's Armon Hanatziv neighborhood
Ahmad Gharabli, AFP

Israel's Foreign Ministry is expected to stress on Sunday that despite pressure from the right - including from Culture Minister Miri Regev - there is no legal way to expel the UN from their headquarters in Jerusalem's Armon Hanatziv neighborhood. According to a senior official, the Foreign Ministry will also voice its opposition to the move for diplomatic reasons.

"The professional opinion that will be presented is that Israel signed an agreement with the UN and international treaties according to which the UN headquarters enjoys diplomatic immunity," the official said. "There are agreements and we cannot violate them. The only way to expel the UN headquarters from the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood is if the UN decides to vacate it on its own accord."

The government on Sunday is expected to discuss UNESCO's latest vote in which it adopted a resolution critical of Israel's policy in Jerusalem. In wake of the resolution, Regev demanded the government discuss expelling the UN headquarters from the site.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev.
Ilan Assayag

Regev raised the issue during last week's government meeting and in wake of the demand the discussion will be held on Sunday. Regev began exerting pressure to advance the issue of the UN headquarters as part of her cooperation with the right-wing Regavim organization, which has led a campaign claiming that UN personnel are violating their agreements with Israel concerning construction violations in Armon Hanatziv. The group claims the headquarters has encroached on territories not originally designated for the organization.

It is unclear why Regev decided to demand a discussion on the issue following the UNESCO resolution. It is possible that the reason is that Regev is confused and thinks the headquarters is the seat of UNESCO – the UN's educational, cultural and scientific organization – and not UNSCO, the UN's special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

The Foreign Ministry staff plan to stress Sunday that these are not the same organization and that UNESCO does not have any representative at the site. They will also stress that those who adopted the critical position against Israel were UNESCO member states, and not the organization itself, whose chief, Irina Bokova, objected to the move.

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova.
AP

Last week, UNESCO's executive committee passed the resolution critical of Israeli conduct in Jerusalem and Gaza. The motion was approved by a smaller majority than in the past, after many countries voted against it due to Israeli and American diplomatic pressure that led to the dismantling of a deal forged between the Arab countries that initiated the resolution, Germany and European Union countries.

A day after the vote, Netanyahu announced that Israel will cut another $1 million dollars in funding to the UN. "UNESCO's decision is bizarre," said Netanyahu, "and this harrassment has a price."

Unlike previous UNESCO resolutions that ignored the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, the version that passed last Tuesday was much softer in language. Still, Israeli officials were not pleased. They said the resolution remains political in character and still includes criticism of Israel.

Over the course of 2016, Israel transfered $11.7 million to the UN in membership fees. The amount each country pays for membership is set according to that country's size. Netanyahu previously ordered $6 million to be cut from the funds in tranfers to the UN after the passing of Security Council Resolution 2334 against settlements in the West Bank.

Another $2 million was cut one month ago after a UN Human Rights Council decision against the settlements.