GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 849, 28 March 2024

Gaza: Finally, a UN Security Council Resolution
Rosemary Kurian

In the news
On 25 March, the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and an unconditional release of all hostages. The resolution, the first since the war began, stresses the “urgent need to expand the flow” of aid into Gaza. The resolution was passed with 14 in favour, none against and one abstention (US). 

Following the resolution, Hamas announced that it was ready “to engage in an immediate prisoner exchange process that leads to the release of prisoners on both sides.”

On the same day, the office of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, stated that the US had “abandoned” its long-standing position, adding that “regrettably, the United States did not veto the new resolution.” The US National Security Council spokesperson, John Kirby, stated that the US’s decision to abstain did not mean a “shift in our policy.”

On 23 March, Netanyahu stated that while they appreciated US support, “if we have to– we will do it alone.”

Issues at large
First, the four failed attempts earlier in the UNSC. Since the war began, four draft resolutions demanding a ceasefire have been introduced and vetoed. The US vetoed the first three; Russia and China vetoed the last, which the US-sponsored on 22 March. For three previous resolutions, the US backed Israel’s right to defend itself, claiming that a ceasefire at that time would benefit Hamas. 

Second, the debate over ceasefire. There is a lack of consensus on the nature of the UN resolutions. Under Article 25 of the UN Charter, all UNSC resolutions are binding. A breach of the resolution by the signatory would prompt an additional vote demanding punitive measures. Israel has a history of flouting resolutions, the most recent being Israel’s failure to act upon the General Assembly’s call for a “humanitarian ceasefire” in December 2023. The current resolution was negotiated to build consensus by removing the term “permanent” for the nature of ceasefire demands. Russia insisted on a permanent ceasefire to prevent Israel from interpreting the text in its favour and resuming military operations in Gaza after Ramadan. 

Third, increasing divide between the US and Israel. The US’ unquestioned and unequivocal support for Israel to secure its “right to defend itself” gradually turned into disapproval of Netanyahu’s leadership after the offensive in Rafah. In response to the 7 October attack, Biden expressed his support that “Israel’s security is rock solid and unwavering.” However, after the mounting death toll in Gaza, Biden welcomed the call for a four-day pause in fighting on 21 November 2023. On 12 December, Biden accused Israel of “indiscriminate bombing” in Gaza. When Israel initiated its offensive in Rafah, Biden openly criticised it, calling their approach “over the top.” During his State of the Union Address on 7 March, Biden stated that “the only real solution is a two-state solution.” He later stated that Netanyahu was “hurting Israel more than helping Israel.” Israel is upset over the US, and the statement by Netanyahu that Israel would go alone should highlight the growing differences between the two leaders.

Fourth, growing international pressure on Israel. The EU initially accepted Israel’s right to defend the “barbaric terrorist attacks” by Hamas. However, on 2 March, it condemned the restrictions imposed on the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza, urging Israel to “fully cooperate with the UN agencies.” Germany and France, two big supporters in Europe do not agree with Israel’s strategy on Gaza.

In perspective
The rift that began between Israel and the US over Israel’s campaign in Gaza has turned into a wide chasm after the US abstained from voting. Israel has refused to accept the resolution, putting its applicability at risk. The alternative is the international community enforcing it through punitive actions, which seems unlikely since the US announced that its abstention does not imply a “shift in policy” in its approach to Israel. The text of the resolution, since it is derived from consensus, is not meant to be long-term, given the lack of “permanence” in its duration. Therefore, even if Israel agrees to its terms, it won’t last for longer than two weeks and pave the way for a sustained pause. 

The only way a resolution can work is if Israel wants it to work. Despite international condemnation, Israel refused to allow the operation of the UNRWA in Gaza and continued aggressive settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. International condemnation hasn’t prevented Netanyahu from taking a step back from the war. The success of the ceasefire can only be witnessed after Netanyahu’s next step. Netanyahu’s next step would determine the nature of the trajectory of the war. 

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