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Top UN peacekeeper says Arab League Call for Gaza deployment is premature

Augusta Saraiva, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

The United Nations peacekeeping chief argued against the latest calls for international troops to deploy in Gaza, saying the post-war state of affairs was too uncertain and that any operation would require agreement from Israel, which has been highly critical of the UN’s work in Palestinian territories.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, undersecretary-general for peace operations, said in an interview Wednesday that he’s aware of demands for sending in so-called Blue Helmets, including last week by the Arab League, but cautioned it’s too early and the politics too fraught to consider the option at the moment.

“Nobody really knows what the day after in Gaza would look like,” Lacroix said. “We absolutely don’t know what the state of affair would look like but obviously the parties — and that would certainly include Israel — would have to agree to such a proposition.”

Right now, the UN is calling “first and foremost” for a humanitarian cease-fire, releasing of hostages, access to aid — and then progress toward a two-state political solution, Lacroix said. He added that deployment was a decision that must be taken up by the 15-member Security Council.

The UN and its operations in Gaza have come under intense scrutiny by Israel since the Oct. 7 assault by Hamas, which killed some 1,200 people and still holds scores of hostages.

Israel has accused the UN’s main humanitarian organization in Gaza of being infiltrated by Hamas operatives — which the agency denies — and at the UN has dismissed criticism of its bombardment of the territory.

The Arab League proposal came in the final statement of its meeting in Bahrain May 16. “We call for the deployment of United Nations international protection and peacekeeping forces in the occupied Palestinian territory until the two-state solution is implemented,” the group’s 22 members said in the Bahrain Declaration.

Lacroix also addressed the challenges the war in the Gaza Strip has created for 10,500 UN peacekeepers stationed in southern Lebanon. He said the Israel-Hamas war was having a “major impact” on the mission known as Unifil, which he described as a mediator between Israeli and Lebanese forces.

 

“The role of Unifil is critically important, because Unifil is the only channel that can convey messages from one side to the other side, and that is critically important to avoid misunderstanding and also to bring about de-escalation when needed,” Lacroix said.

More broadly, Lacroix, a veteran French diplomat, said political gridlock was the biggest impediment to UN-led operations, beyond just peace and security.

“That is really probably the biggest challenge to not only peacekeeping operations, but frankly to anything that the UN can do on peace and security,” Lacroix said. “We need to have member states showing unity and commitment to multilateral approaches to crisis.”

He didn’t mention any countries by name but the council’s work has been largely frozen by disputes between the U.S. and Russia, two of its five permanent members

The peace arm of the UN is facing an existential crisis as an array of countries including Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo move toward ousting UN peacekeepers amid conflict and deteriorating humanitarian conditionsy.

African countries have long argued that they should take the lead on addressing security challenges in the region. That demand was finally met by the UN Security Council in December, when members agreed to a framework where the AU would spearhead peace operations and the UN would fund as much as 75% of its costs.

Lacroix added said the UN and African Union officials were hoping to have a “clear plan” by the end of the year on how to operationalize the framework. It’s still unclear how the remaining 25% of costs would be funded.


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