The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) finally reacted to the Israeli onslaught in Gaza by adopting Resolution 1860 late last night by 14 positive votes and one abstention cast by the USA. The resolution calls for an “immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza” as well as “the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment.”
However, Israel swiftly rejected the resolution and even stepped up its attacks on Gaza, where the combined toll for dead and injured now stands at more than 4,000, mostly civilians and up to a third children. While Hamas has condemned this resolution for going against the interests of the Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority (PA)–which remains the only institution recognized internationally to speak officially on behalf of Palestine–welcomed the resolution.
There are several points that can be made at this early stage of UN intervention:
1) The deafening silence of the UNSC up to this point–and in particular the failure of its veto-wielding permanent members to compel Israel to stop its acts of aggression and policies of collective punishment against the civilian population of Gaza–confirms the trend whereby the UNSC may be said to be colluding with Israel in its various wars against Lebanon and the Palestinians. An earlier draft resolution circulated by Libya and which called for an immediate cease-fire and lifting of Israel’s siege of Gaza was rejected by the UN’s western state as well as the “moderate” Arab regimes. It should be recalled that the UNSC waited 32 days before finally passing Resolution 1701 following Israel’s illegal invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 2006 that resulted in a major humanitarian catastrophe.
2) There is little doubt that the US, Europeans, and “moderate” Arab regimes delayed the passage of any resolution to give Israel as much time as possible to achieve its objectives of destroying the Palestinian resistance movement. As Rashid Khalidi reminds us in his January 8th New York Times article, Moshe Yaalon, then the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, revealed Israel’s true intentions in 2002: “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.” Unfortunately for Israel and its allies, not only has this objective failed thus far, but Israel’s actions are more likely to galvanize the spirit of resistance among Palestinians and indeed Arabs in general.
3) It seems clear that the mass demonstrations in solidarity with the people of Gaza that erupted worldwide, and particularly in the Arab and Muslim worlds, played a crucial catalyzing role in forcing the UNSC to intervene. The European states, and eventually the US, understood that what is at stake right now in the Arab world is not just the fate of Gaza but the survival of the “moderate” Arab regimes, such as in Egypt. These regimes, widely considered illegitimate, are facing unprecedented levels of anger from their own citizens. The Western powers, in essence, needed to throw a bone to these Arab regimes so that they may appear to be protecting the Palestinians and thus diffusing peoples’ anger somewhat.
4) The resolution does not mention Hamas in deference to Israel’s insistence that it not be recognized indirectly as anything more than a “terror” organization.
5) The text of Resolution 1860 makes no mention of international humanitarian laws (let alone offer any condemnation for the breaching of these laws), and it appears to adopt Israel’s narrative of events in its preamble and operative sentences (just as Resolution 1701 adopted Israel’s narrative in 2006). For instance it clearly implies that the blame for this war, and “the resulting heavy civilian causalities” is due to the “refusal to extend the period of calm.” In other words, just as Israeli and US spokesmen for the war say without apparent irony, the Palestinians are being blamed for the deaths and destruction on…the Palestinians themselves. This statement perpetuates the canard that Hamas broke the truce with Israel, when in fact it is well established that Israel did so both in its 4 November attacks on Hamas officials in Gaza and in its refusal to comply with the terms of the truce by loosening its blockade on the Palestinian population as a whole.
6) Resolution 1860 continues the trend recently favored by the mainstream international human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to equate the clearly disproportionate suffering of the occupied and the occupiers, the victims and the perpetrators of war crimes. For instance, the resolution emphasizes that “the Palestinian and Israeli civilian populations must be protected,” as though Palestinian civilians and Israeli civilians have somehow been under the equivalent threat during this war. The figure of over 4,000 dead and wounded in Gaza compared to a dozen Israelis—mostly soldiers—makes this equivalence morally irresponsible to say the least.
7) Resolution 1860 states that it “Condemns all violence and hostilities directed against civilians and all acts of terrorism.” Again, this text appears to indirectly support Israel’s self-declared justification of “self-defense” and its use of “violence and hostilities” except in the cases that may be proven to be specifically directed against civilians. Given that each time Israel hits a civilian home, a UN school, an ambulance, or a hospital it either insists that some “terrorist” was hiding there or it was a regrettable “mistake,” it is difficult to understand what exactly the resolution is condemning as far as Israeli action is concerned. On the other hand, there is no lack of clarity in the resolution’s blanket statement that it condemns “all acts of terrorism.” Since the UK, which sponsored the draft resolution, considers Hamas to be a “terrorist” organization, this means that the resolution is condemning any act of resistance that Hamas carries out against Israeli targets. Such double-speak has become the norm in UN resolutions dealing with Israel.
8) Finally, the real heart of the resolution as far as Israel is concerned, is in the paragraph which “Calls upon Member States to intensify efforts to provide arrangements and guarantees in Gaza in order to sustain a durable ceasefire and calm, including to prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition and to ensure the sustained re-opening of the crossing points on the basis of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access between the Palestinian Authority and Israel; and in this regard, welcomes the Egyptian initiative, and other regional and international efforts that are under way.” One of the main reason for Israel’s rejection of Resolution 1860 so far seems to be the lack of an explicit mechanism that spells out exactly how “illegal trafficking of arms” to the Palestinian resistance can be accomplished. Israel understands well that such a vague statement would be considered as a defeat for its efforts to choke the supply lines of the Palestinian resistance. After all, a similar call for an arms embargo against Hizbullah following the 2006 war did not prevent the Lebanese resistance movement from re-arming to the point that it is today much stronger than it was even in 2006. Moreover, an explicit reference to the “Egyptian initiative” is a blow to Palestinian hopes that a more balance mediation effort—such as ones led by Turkey or Qatar—may be advanced.
Ultimately, like all UN resolutions, it is not so much the wording of the text that matters as much as the military and political balance of power on the ground once the war ends. Hamas and the rest of the Palestinian resistance movement must continue to resist Israel’s invasion in order that it can influence the interpretation of this resolution, as well as participate meaningfully in any formulation of specific mechanisms dealing with the border crossings that will surely follow in due course. This is the lesson from the Lebanon war of 2006, where Hizbullah’s success on the ground against Israel prevented the passage of an earlier draft resolution, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, that would have seen a NATO-style peace enforcement operation forced on Lebanon in order to protect Israel. Capitulation on the ground in Gaza would similarly mean the imposition of further resolutions that would indeed break the back of the Palestinian resistance.
It is likely that the US, certainly, and the European Union (EU) will allow Israel a little more time to achieve some success on the ground that has so far, apparently, eluded it. As such, Israel will continue to press ahead with its war on Gaza for the time being, until the international community is forced to intervene once more under increasing public pressure.
The people of Gaza, meanwhile, have suffered untold horrors, but their will to stand strong and resist has grown, and in this they have huge public support throughout the Arab region and indeed the world.
KARIM MAKDISI is a professor in the Dept. of Political Studies and Public Administration at the American University of Beirut