The 15-member Security Council, described as the most powerful body in the United Nations, has remained paralyzed because of a new “cold war” between the five veto-wielding permanent members.
The sharp political division—with China and Russia on one side and the US, UK and France on the other—has brought the Council to a virtual standstill—this time over the Israel-Gaza war.
The US, which has traditionally been highly protective of Israel as its strong political and military ally, has refused to condemn Israel for the hundreds of Palestinian civilians killed in Gaza and the attacks and bombings of hospitals which are considered violations of international humanitarian laws.
After four failed attempts, the Council succeeded in passing a resolution November 15 on the protection of children in Gaza—but refused to call for a cease-fire.
The resolution, sponsored by Malta, was adopted 12-0 with three veto-wielding members, namely the US, UK and Russia abstaining.
Following the vote, Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, said the UN Security Council just sent a rare and powerful message to Israel, Hamas and other armed groups that compliance with international humanitarian law is non-negotiable.
“So far, there has been widespread disregard for civilians by all parties. That the US finally stopped paralyzing the council on Israel and Palestine so this resolution on the plight of children in Gaza could move forward, should be a wake-up call to Israeli authorities that global concern, even among its allies, is strong,” said Charbonneau.
But a more critical comment came from Abby Maxman, President and CEO of Oxfam America, who said the resolution does show important progress in the Council in an effort to uphold international law.
But at a time when a full cessation of hostilities is required, it falls far short by calling only for extended humanitarian pauses and corridors. Those are not nearly enough while the violence and siege continue, she pointed out.
Even as hospitals are bombarded and the UN warns that their fuel supplies for aid have run dry, it is a bitter disappointment that UN Security Council members are still not able to vote for a ceasefire in Gaza, Maxman said.
“Without stronger action, some Security Council members are betraying their responsibility to prevent threats to the peace, as outlined in the UN Charter. Their lack of courage is preventing the Council from bringing an end to the immense death, injury and destruction being inflicted upon Gaza,” she noted
“The world is watching the Council closely and demanding that they lead in the push to end to this brutal war. We continue to urge an immediate ceasefire, armed groups to release their hostages, and Israel to fully restore humanitarian aid and basic services that are urgently needed across the Gaza Strip,” Maxman declared.
The death toll so far includes 1,200 killed, along with 240 taken as hostages, mostly Israelis, while the Israeli bombings have killed more than 11,000 Palestinians, two-thirds of them women and children.
According to an Associated Press (AP) report, Russia proposed an amendment to the resolution before the vote that would have called for durable humanitarian pauses leading to a cease-fire. But it was rejected by a vote of 5-1 with nine abstentions, because it failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes.
In the four previous tries for Security Council approval, a Brazil-drafted resolution was vetoed by the United States, a U.S.-drafted resolution was vetoed by Russia and China and two Russian-drafted resolutions failed to get the minimum “yes” votes.
Lana Nusseibeh, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) emphasized that the adoption of the resolution “only begins our response to this war and to this crisis”.
“Too much time has passed, too many people have been killed, and too much destruction has been wrought.”
“It is worth noting here that where Hamas is not operating, Palestinians are also losing their lives on land internationally recognised as part of their future state,” she pointed out.
During this last 40 days, and largely underreported, almost 200 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank as a result of settler violence and raids.
“This must stop and Israel must hold those committing these attacks fully accountable. For the UAE, this resolution will enable our efforts, our humanitarian efforts on the ground, for example, to receive 1,000 Palestinian children and their families for medical treatment in the UAE, and that work has already begun, and we hope to receive the first group within the coming week. It will also be vital for our establishment of an emergency field hospital in the Gaza Strip”.
“We urge all Member States, as well as UN and humanitarian organizations, to utilise this resolution in their efforts to scale up assistance, and to come back to the Council if they need additional support,” she noted.
It is vital that this body now lives up to its responsibility towards also ensuring its implementation in full, Ambassador Nusseibeh said.
International law, especially the rules of war, bind all the parties to this conflict. There can be no equivocation on this point. Israel must cease attacks on civilians and civilian objects; they must uphold the special protections afforded, by international law, to hospitals and schools; and they must ensure safe and unhindered humanitarian access.
In this context, “we reiterate our condemnation of Israel’s raid on the Al-Shifa Hospital in the last 24 hours, and other attacks on hospitals, and stress that it is precisely this type of military action that today’s resolution rejects. Hospitals are sacrosanct spaces that must be protected. We’ve all received countless, unbearable messages of despair from medical workers in these hospitals, who have stayed and are pleading for their patients to be protected.”
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said: “Let’s be crystal clear: Hamas set this conflict in motion. Because Hamas only cares about the death and destruction of the Israeli people. They do not care one whit about the safety and the protection of the Palestinian people.”
“If they did, they wouldn’t use civilian infrastructure – residential buildings, schools, mosques, and hospitals – to store weapons and operate command and control nodes. They wouldn’t use innocent, vulnerable people as human shields.”
Ultimately, she said, the United States could not vote yes on a text that did not condemn Hamas or reaffirm the right of all Member States to protect their citizens from terrorist attacks.
“The Council repeatedly has made clear that we stand against all acts of terror. This horrific attack must be no exception. And the United States will continue to urge this Council to condemn Hamas’ actions.”
Although the United States is deeply disappointed by what is not in this text, she said, “we support many of the important provisions this Council has adopted”.
“For starters, while this text does not include a condemnation of Hamas, this is the first time we have ever adopted a resolution that even mentions the word “Hamas.”
In addition, “we fully support this resolution’s call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas and other groups,” Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield declared.