UN Affairs: Insecurity council

Wednesday's session at the UN to discuss the events in Gaza was as fruitless as its predecessors, with the usual suspects condemning Israel.

By now, any politician who approaches a microphone should know to assume it's hot - and that the world is just as keen, if not keener, to hear what he really has to say than to listen to his prepared comments. So perhaps the French envoy to the United Nations, Jean-Maurice Ripert, didn't mind that the world, able to tune in via the Web, could hear him tell a press handler to adjust the stand so it would "not [be] too high, [since] it gives me the impression of being very small." Ripert was just making a harmless joke at his own expense, but the comment, coming at the fruitless height of this week's emergency round of Security Council meetings on Gaza, was apropos: The effort has given the impression of being very small indeed. In the face of the growing crisis, the Security Council has proven itself once again to be many things - a useful cover for ministers wishing to hold closed-door meetings with allies, for quiet exchanges in corridors with foes or a forum for airing grievances and scoring rhetorical points - but it has surprised exactly no one that it has failed to agree on a response of any kind, let alone impose a working cease-fire. The die was cast for the UN on Saturday, the night the ground offensive began, after the US used its veto to put the kibosh on a measure condemning the violence hastily introduced by the Libyan delegation - perhaps as much to force the issue as to prompt progress toward peace. Even as foreign ministers from France, Egypt, the US, Britain and other key players converged on the wood-panelled chamber in New York, their leaders were focusing on shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East, where French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former British prime minister Tony Blair made their appearances. Egypt's own envoy, Maged Abdelaziz, responded indignantly Wednesday, when reporters asked him what was happening in Cairo, where the action clearly was: "I'm here in New York, and you know how fast things move." Of course, for most of the Arab delegations, the answer was simply "not fast enough" - and the Security Council chamber, as well as the press stand just outside the door, are as good a pair of places as any to broadcast that point. "We're not going to wait for the implementation, for the discussion, for a couple of weeks while people die," Abdelaziz told reporters. "The Security Council has its responsibilities, and must undertake its responsibilities." SAUDI FOREIGN Minister Saud al-Faisal, speaking Tuesday during a three-hour evening session, was quick to cite the speed with which the international community moved to end last summer's war between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia. "War no longer evokes glory or pride. It evokes only rage and condemnation from the international community," Faisal told his colleagues, skirting the inconvenient fact that the Security Council met repeatedly over that conflict, with no results, as the Russians deadlocked with the US and the Europeans. Nonetheless, he added darkly: "Either the Security Council deals with its responsibilities, or we will be forced to turn our backs and consider what options present themselves." Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, seconded the Saudi view, though he made an effort to appeal to his colleagues' vanity as well, accusing the Israelis of pooh-poohing Security Council resolutions in The New York Times. "The fact is, Mr. President, the Security Council has come under attack," Moussa said. Sitting next to him in a chic blue dress, rather than her usual black suit, Israeli envoy Gabriela Shalev looked on, gripping her glasses as her eyebrows crawled higher up her forehead. "Is the council's credibility strengthened when it calls for a cease-fire that effectively equates a terrorist group with a state defending itself against it?" Shalev challenged the gathering. And, more to the point, she asked: "Does anyone here truly believe that Hamas will heed the words of this council?" Israel, of course, has been clear from the start that it has no interest in the UN's taking any position unless it is to condemn Hamas's rocket attacks on Israel as a UN member state - a move that has cost it little lost love in New York, and preserved maximum flexibility to maneuver on the ground while negotiations proceed in Cairo. Now, with rockets coming in from Lebanon - despite the UN forces stationed there - the Security Council will have to decide whether to raise its bar, or to set it once again "not too high."