UN’s Mideast force more European

The conventional wisdom at the UN is that there are six, not five, veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council. The official veto wielders, according to the UN charter, are the US, Britain, France, China and Russia. But the sixth member state exercising virtual veto powers is Israel, which continues to remain under the protection of the US.

Even successive US administrations have perhaps lost count of the umpteen number of times Washington has deployed its veto to oppose any condemnation of Israel — right or wrong — in the 15-member Security Council (10 of whom are rotating non-permanent members elected for two-year stints). ‘Israel gets what Israel wants,’ says one Arab diplomat, pointing out that it is a political sacred cow within the precincts of the world body.

Currently, Israel is resisting the offer of troops from Muslim nations — particularly Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia — for the newly energised UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which is tasked to monitor the ceasefire between Hezbollah and Israel following the recent 34-day war. ‘And Israel may well have its way,’ adds the Arab diplomat. So far, Bangladesh has offered 2,000 troops and Indonesia and Malaysia about 1,000 troops each. Israel, however, has ruled out all three countries on the ground that none of them has diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv. Israel has decided to pick and choose which Muslim nations should provide troops for the UN force — and which shouldn’t. Israel says it is willing to accept troops from three other Muslim nations — Egypt, Jordan and Turkey — because it

has either ‘friendly’ or ‘diplomatic’ relations with the three. Of the three, only Turkey has offered to provide troops.

James A Paul, executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, says Israel should not be able to dictate the terms of the peacekeeping force, which is to operate entirely on Lebanese soil. So far, the concrete Western offers are from Italy (2,500 troops); France (2,000, which includes 200 troops already with the existing UNIFIL); Spain 1,200; Poland 500; Belgium 300 and Finland 250. The UN wants to beef up the existing UNIFIL which has about 2,000 troops to a high of 15,000 troops. But the present commitments still fall short of the target.

Briefing reporters in Beirut last Monday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, in the first phase, ‘We want to get in as quickly as possible with 3,500 troops, and then move to the second and third phases.’ Asked about Israeli resistance to Muslim troops, Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown told reporters last week: ‘Well, as a number of people have said, the final word on what is acceptable is ours, and these troops are deployed in Lebanese territory, not Israeli territory.’

But still, ‘As a matter of good form in peacekeeping you want a force which is broadly acceptable in its composition to both sides, which is why we have talked about this European-Muslim core to the force, and I think the issue is balance.’

‘The more we can fill this force out with a number of key nationalities providing major pillars or legs to it, the more the Israelis can be persuaded to look at its overall composition rather than focusing singularly on particular contributors,’ Malloch Brown said. — IPS