The United Nations Will Watch Over Gaza

Who knows? The UN might one day decide to implement its doctrine of 'responsibility to protect' during a Hamas-Israel conflict. Seems unlikely? So did the initiative for a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state a few months ago.

President Barack Obama doesn't want to be the world's policeman. That's the bottom line of the doctrine he outlined following criticism of his hesitancy to intervene militarily in Libya. The United States will not be the sole power to lead (and fund ) the struggle to topple dictatorial regimes, he declared as he transferred authority for promoting democratic values around the world to NATO.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, speaking before a Senate committee, was asked whether there was a chance the United States would send ground forces to overthrow Muammar Gadhafi's regime. He said that as long as he was defense secretary, U.S. soldiers would not intervene in Libya. Meanwhile, in Western capitals, and in the Arab states where troops are using live fire against protesters, they were trying to fathom the significance of America's relinquishing the forefront of the struggle against tyrannical regimes. But war drums could be heard from an unexpected direction. The United Nations announced that the peacekeeping troops stationed in Ivory Coast had been ordered to intervene to unseat Laurent Gbagbo's bloody regime.

On April 4, seven helicopters - two from the United Nations and five from France bearing the UN insignia - attacked military bases in Abidjan that were loyal to Gbagbo. While in Libya an embarrassing deadlock has emerged, and Obama's demand that Gadhafi must go seems like an elusive target, the UN's new policy has led to a change of rulers in Ivory Coast, paving the way there to stability.

What led the United Nations to flex its muscles? This is what Edward Luck, a special adviser to the UN secretary general on genocide, asked in an article in Time Magazine. He admitted that people do not expect the United Nations to take up arms. The explanation can be summed thus: The world body plans to implement the doctrine of "responsibility to protect." Luck explained that this concept is anchored in the principle that human rights are universal and that every member state is responsible for protecting its citizens. If a state fails to do so, outside forces are permitted to do so in its stead.

The aim is to prevent the killing of civilians in conflicts that can develop into genocide, he wrote. That is what was done in Ivory Coast and what formed the basis for the decision to impose a no-fly zone in Libya. A number of member states oppose this concept, notably Russia, China and their colleagues in the developing world. They contend that the United Nations does not have the authority to intervene in a member state's internal affairs. The organization is also not set up to intervene militarily when an armed conflict is underway, they maintain.

Veteran senior diplomats in New York, however, say the outcome will be that Resolution 1973, which legitimized military intervention in Libya and the peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast, will have a big influence on the United Nations' responses, particularly those of the Security Council, to local military conflicts in which civilians are killed and their homes destroyed.

The New York Times recently reported that direct military intervention by the UN peacekeeping forces in Ivory Coast indicated a change in the world body's approach. The report quoted diplomats and analysts who said the attack reflected a new willingness by the United Nations to take daring steps to save lives.

From Israel's point of view, this means that in a future military confrontation with Hamas, the UN reaction will not be influenced by an op-ed by Richard Goldstone expressing regret. A move by the Security Council during an Israeli military campaign against Hamas could find expression in the new concept of UN military intervention to prevent the killing of civilians. The chances of an initiative to send an international peacekeeping force to the Gaza Strip in the event of a large campaign against Hamas seems to be negligible right now. But if the deadlocked peace process continues without a move from Jerusalem, any move that breaks the stalemate that Israel's leaders are addicted to will receive wholesale support from the United Nations.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, the force behind Resolution 1973, quickly understood the United Nations' new aggressive mood. A few days ago, after Israel bombed teams that had fired rockets into Israel, Moussa called for a UN initiative to create a no-fly zone for Israeli planes over the Gaza Strip. The initiative for a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state also seemed hallucinatory a few months ago.