'Ban’s trip to the Middle-East comes too late'

The UN’s calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza have so far gone unheeded. Can the UN wield any influence on the conflict's outcome? International affairs specialist Philippe Moreau-Defarges answered FRANCE 24’s questions.


"Ceasefire talks gain steam, but outcome uncertain" (to read more click here)

FRANCE 24: On January 15, the headquarters of the United Nation’s humanitarian agency for refugees (UNRWA) was bombed by the Israeli army. According to the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, shots were fired from the complex targeting Israeli forces. Does this strike you as plausible?

Philippe Moreau-Defarges: We shouldn’t necessarily give that attack a political meaning. The media have given the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) a very negative image. I don’t think Israel means to deliberately sabotage UN humanitarian action in the Gaza strip as long as UN aid installations do not jeopardize Israeli security.

I can’t tell you whether Ehud Olmer’s allegations are true or not. Everything that Israel says isn’t necessary a lie, you know. We’re not on the field, we can’t be sure of anything at the moment.

FRANCE 24: The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, is currently traveling in the Middle-East to renew his calls for an immediate ceasfire in Gaza. What can he contribute to the current diplomatic discussions?

Philippe Moreau-Defarges: Ban Ki-moon can’t do more than show that the UN is present in the Middle East and committed to peace. His trip comes a little late: negotiations are well underway in Cairo along Egyptian President’s Hosni Mubarak’s blueprint. The United Nations are relatively powerless: the Security Council’s mandate is very vague. Member countries remain very divided on the subject, and the UN can only act when its member countries give it a green light. The United Nations could wield more influence in the Middle East if the members of the Security Council agreed to a binding resolution. But so far, no permanent council member is ready to put pressure on Israel.

FRANCE 24: On January 8, the UN Security Council voted resolution n°1960 that condemns both the Israeli offensive and Hamas rocket fire. The United States, which usually veto any text condemning Israeli action, chose to abstain from voting this time. Why?

Philippe Moreau-Defarges: It shows that Washington is in a very tight spot. The US have always been Israel’s protective big brother. They could never vote in favor of the resolution, but they couldn’t pretend not to see that Israli strikes were absolutely devastating. They couldn’t veto the text either: they don’t want – and can’t afford – to provoke the wrath of their allies within the Muslim world: remember that they have troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the fact that they didn’t veto doesn’t imply that the US will alter its basic position on the situation in Israel. It’s just a sign of prudence. Barack Obama’s arrival in the White House won’t change anything : the US won’t let Israel down.

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