GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 759, 26 October 2023

Into the Third Week: The Worsening Situation in Gaza
D Suba Chandran

In the news
On 27 October, the United National General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities.” The resolution had 120 votes in its favour, while 14 were against and 45 abstained. Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, in response to the resolution, said: “This is a dark day for the UN and mankind. Israel will defend itself and will do what must be done to eradicate Hamas’ capabilities and bring the hostages home.” He asked: “The only way to destroy Hamas is to root them out. Why are you not holding Hamas accountable?”

On 27 October, according to the Washington Post, “Israel knocked out internet and communications in the Gaza Strip in stepped-up bombardment Friday night, largely cutting off its 2.3 million people from contact with each other and the outside world and creating a near-blackout of information.” The paper quoted Paltel, the Palestinian telecom provider, referring to a disruption in mobile phone, landline and internet services due to bombardment.

On 27 October, the AP News, referring to the “Gaza-based Ministry of Health,” said 7000 plus Palestinians have been killed since 7 October. According to the Washington Post, “The overall number of deaths far exceeds the combined toll of all four previous Israel-Hamas wars, estimated at around 4,000.”

On 25 October, the Washington Post referred to the Palestine Red Crescent's statement on the shortage of fuel to keep the ambulances and hospitals functional. It quoted a spokesperson saying: “We used 80 percent of our strategic reserves…Soon we will have nothing. People are going to start dying by themselves because of the shutdown of the health care system.” The Post also quoted the spokesperson of the UNRWA saying: “we are going to have to start choosing where to send the aid, and how often.”

On 25 October, a press release from the UN Security Council said: “The Security Council today failed to adopt either of two competing draft resolutions — one from the United States, the other from the Russian Federation — addressing the raging war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza. In the first vote, the United States’ text failed by a vote of 10 in favour to 3 against (China, Russian Federation, United Arab Emirates), with 2 abstentions (Brazil, Mozambique), owing to the negative vote of a permanent Council member. The Russian Federation’s version was then not carried following a vote of 4 in favour (China, Gabon, Russian Federation, United Arab Emirates) and 2 against (United Kingdom, United States), with 9 abstentions (Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, France, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland).”

On 24 October, the UN Secretary-General made a statement: “The grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas…and those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.” However, his reference that the attacks “did not happen in a vacuum” created a stir, with Israel’s ambassador to the UN demanding the former’s resignation.

On 21 October, in a joint statement, five UN agencies (UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, WEP and WHO) said: “Gaza was a desperate humanitarian situation before the most recent hostilities. It is now catastrophic. The world must do more.” According to the statement: “Flows of humanitarian aid must be at scale and sustained, and allow all Gazans to preserve their dignity.” 

Issues at large
First, the trickling aid into Gaza and an impending collapse. Despite the international pressure, Israel was steadfast in limiting the aid to Gaza. While the UN agencies have demanded more aid – including food, water, medical supplies and, more importantly, fuel, Israel has restricted the movement. Ever since the opening of Rafah border crossing, there has been movement of goods, but the numbers are insignificant. In particular, Israel opposes any fuel movement into Gaza, as it fears, the fuel would end with Hamas. Israel also accuses Hamas of having fuel storage but refusing to share it with the population. The primary strategy of Israel seems to be aimed to pressurizing Gaza by blocking materials and information. 

Second, the delayed ground offensive by Israel and the emphasis on air attacks. Though Israel has brought troops all along the Gaza border, the much-focussed ground offensive by the Israeli troops in Gaza is yet to begin. The military offensive has been projected by Israel as a strategy to clear Hamas from Gaza; however, the delay highlights the complex situation on the ground. The hostage situation, the threat of increased military casualties, and pressure from friendly countries seem to be playing a role in Israel delaying the ground offensive.

Third, the failure in hostage negotiations with Hamas. According to news sources, more than 200 people were taken as hostages by Hamas during the initial attack on 7 October. Select countries in the West and the Middle East have been negotiating with Hamas for their release. Only four people have been released by the Hamas until now. 

Fourth, the divide at the United Nations, especially the Security Council. Developments during the week highlight the huge divide between the General Assembly and the Security Council and within the Security Council. The statement by the UN Secretary-General and Israel’s response during the week further highlights the issues facing the United Nations, if it has to play any reasonable role in addressing the situation in Gaza, and between Israel and Hamas.

In perspective
First, the worsening situation. The failure to get a ceasefire and get the hostages released highlights the limits of external influence over the two primary actors –Hamas and Israel. With Israel getting ready for a ground offensive, the situation will only get worse in the coming weeks.

Second, the lack of consensus outside Gaza and Israel. The failure at the UN Security Council and the divide in the UN General Assembly resolution highlights how the international community is divided over the conflict. This would imply the limited role of the UN in working with actors to reach a ceasefire in the immediate future and work towards a long-term solution. 

Third, the long haul ahead. For Israel, Palestinians, and the immediate neighbourhood, the current violence means a long road for any semblance of peace. The conflict is only likely to worsen.

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