Column Date 2009-06-03

Next Year in Jerusalem: a radical thought

Two major problems have seemed insoluble for a long time now.

First and foremost, of course, is the Middle East: how on earth can we get Arabs and Israelis to stop blowing each other up and live in peace?

The second problem is on an entirely different level, but particularly important to millions of New Yorkers: how do I get a parking place in mid-town Manhattan?

Now maybe it’s because of a favorable alignment of the stars, or my biorhythms being suddenly in sync, but I think there’s a single answer to both these questions – one that, to my knowledge, has not been seriously considered before:

Let’s move the United Nations to Jerusalem.

Think about the effect this would have:

As soon as the U.N. moves to Jerusalem, it can declare a United Nations “Peace Zone” of, say, 200 miles. (Since lots of countries already claim their borders go 200 miles offshore, for oil and fishing rights, this won't be much of a problem for the U.N. diplomats.)

This “Peace Zone” would include all of Israel, from Eilat to the Golan Heights, and all of Gaza and the West Bank. It would also include chunks of Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan, but this shouldn’t be an insurmountable obstacle since we’ve been regularly re-drawing borders in that part of the world for centuries.
A heavily armed force of U.N. peacekeepers, volunteers from dozens of countries, would be in charge of, well, keeping the peace – to “de-fanaticize” the whole area – although local governments would still run their own shows.

With the U.N. headquartered in Jerusalem, it would be difficult for any particular country or group of religious wackos to start blowing things up or destroying each other’s cities. They’d have the whole world to answer to – not only would every TV station on the planet be watching, but international troops from all over the globe would stand in their way.

Naturally, U.N. diplomats would be quick to complain about the lack of world class restaurants and nightlife and whatever in Jerusalem, but I suspect it’s only a matter of time until private enterprise steps in to fill that vacuum. (The initial boredom might even force diplomats to do less entertaining and more serious negotiating. Well, you must admit it’s a possibility.)

As for New York, in one fell swoop, all those diplomatic license plates would be gone!

Parking on our streets would become ridiculously easy once all the diplomats and their limos have left. (FYI: In spite of heroic efforts by generations of New York mayors, foreign diplomats from more than 175 countries still owe more than $18 million in parking fines. Mayor Bloomberg would have to work something out before letting them skip town.)

The land the United Nations currently occupies, of course, would be returned to the public tax roles, to be replaced, undoubtedly, by super-luxury condos – a real estate tax bonanza for the city. (What a location! What history! What views! Donald – are you listening?)

So is this a bad idea? Pie-in-the-sky? Totally naive? An impossible dream? Maybe so.

But since no other idea has worked in the Middle East for half a century, how bad could it be?

And if we’re seriously looking for a way to fix the New York City parking mess, it’s a no-brainer.

©2009 Peter Tannen