The Road to Geneva
IN ONE way or another, every phase of the Arab-Israeli conflict has been linked with the United Nations. The current Geneva conference is but the latest in this tradition-with a difference. In the past, the UN was Israel’s benefactor and the Arabs’ affliction. Now the sides have been reversed. The Israelis have come to distrust the UN so much that they grudgingly agreed to give it a minimal role at Geneva; the Arabs are so fond of the UN that they wanted its role to be maximal.
For a state with Israel’s unique background, the change has been peculiarly painful and damaging. It was the General Assembly’s resolution of November 29, 1947, providing for an Arab and Jewish state in Palestine, that opened the way for the formal establishment of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948. After five Arab armies invaded Palestine and tried to strangle the new state at birth, a UN mediator, Dr. Ralph Bunche, helped to bring about the armistice agreements of 1949. In these first years, the Security Council tried repeatedly to restrain the Arabs. Egypt closed the Suez Canal to Israeli shipping in 1949 on the ground that, despite the armistice, it considered itself to be in a state of “belligerency” vis-a-vis Israel. Two years later, the Council called on Egypt to put an end to this restriction of the canal and held that it was “unreasonable” for Egypt to behave as if it were still an active belligerent. In 1954, when Israel protested against Egypt’s blockade of the port of Eilat, Israel’s only outlet to the Red Sea and the East, the Security Council upheld Israel, only to run into a Soviet veto. Though the UN did not open the Suez Canal for Israel or lift the blockade of Eilat-Israel never achieved the first and obtained the second in 1956-at least the UN did what it could. It passed resolutions, which the Arab nations ignored or defied.
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