A commenter in my latest BloggingHeads diavlog with Matthew Lee asks “Will the UN have any say in a negotiated peace in Gaza? Perhaps, getting Israel and the US government to agree to lift the air, sea and land blockade of the territory?” It’s a good question. In fact, there is some historical precedent suggesting that the UN may have a role to play in lifting the blockade. In the midst of the 2006 war between Hezbollah and the Israeli Defense Forces the Security Council negotiated resolution 1701, which called for a cessation of hostilities. Israel, however, would not lift the sea and air blockade of Lebanon until it was sure that international forces could maintain sea patrols around Lebanon and monitor air freight coming into Beirut. Here is what I wrote at the time about Kofi Annan’s personal contribution to the resolution of that conflict:
Annan shuttled from country to country in order to help create the conditions whereby Israel could lift its sea and air blockade of Lebanon. This was an uphill battle from the get-go, for Israel had insisted that it would lift the blockades only when all of the conditions set forth on resolution 1701 were met. But some of these conditions, such as a border patrol and weapons interdiction regime, were weeks away from being implemented. (When Annan visited Beirut, the German ships scheduled to replace the Israeli Navy off the coast of Lebanon were at least two weeks away from their destination.) Meanwhile, the ongoing blockade was enacting a heavy political toll on Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora as well as impeding reconstruction efforts throughout the country. A frustrated Siniora, reported the Financial Times was reaching the limits of his patience and refused to take Annan’s calls.
A day before he was scheduled to head back to New York, Annan made one final push to lift the blockade. Working the phones, he secured an agreement from France to patrol the Lebanese coast until the German navy arrived. Then, asked Germany to send border control agents to Lebanese airports, per Israel’s demands. Finally, the conditions were right lifting the blockades. With a call to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Annan was able to convince Israeli Prime Minister Olmert to stand down his forces.
The answer, therefore, is yes the UN can have a role to play in situations like this. Ultimately, though, Israel’s decisions will be its own. But the United Nations can help set the conditions under which Israel may feel more comfortable in lifting the blockade.
Photo of Gaza Terminal Airport Building from Flickr.