Why the UN’s Gaza resolution is unlikely to impact wider war

After days of delay at behest of US, language calling for ‘urgent suspension of hostilities’ was stripped from binding resolution

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Friday 22 December 2023 19:17 GMT
UN Security Council approves aid for Gaza but stops short of call for ceasefire

After numerous postponed votes, the United Nations Security Council on Friday approved a resolution calling for urgent humanitarian aid to Gaza, abandoning a proposal that would have urged for a broader ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, which has killed over 20,000 people and devastated large parts of the Gaza Strip.

That’s despite worldwide protests and a UN General Assembly majority vote last week calling for such a pause in fighting.

So what does the resolution do? Here’s what you need to know:

Expanded aid, and vague hopes of peace

The resolution calls for “urgent steps to immediately allow safe, unhindered, and expanded humanitarian access and to create the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities.”

The final language is a step back from the original text in the United Arab Emirates-proposed resolution, which demanded an “urgent suspension of hostilities.”

A vote on the resolution was scheduled for Monday, but was delayed every day this week as the US pushed for revisions behind the scenes.

After more than a week of negotiations between the UAE, the US, which has crucial veto power over the UNSC, and other nations, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Thursday that negotiators reached compromise language that the US and Israel could support.

Earlier this month, the US, a staunch ally of Israel in the conflict, vetoed a resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

The final resolution also scaled down a proposal to have the UN “exclusively monitor all humanitarian relief consignments to Gaza provided through land, sea and air routes,” instead calling for the body to appoint an official responsible for helping coordinate aid.

A dire reality in the conflict zone

The resolution is notable in that it contains the Security Council’s first agreed-upon reference to some future pause in fighting, though it’s unlikely to provide much hope to those in the war zone.

The day before the vote, a UN-backed food monitoring body found that Gaza’s entire population of over 2.2m people are approaching famine conditions.

“These are not just numbers — there are individual children, women and men behind these alarming statistics,” World Food Program chief economist Arif Husain said in a statement. “The complexity, magnitude and speed that this crisis has unfolded is unprecedented.”

The Israeli campign has killed roughly 1 per cent of the population of Gaza, and more than two-thirds of those killed in the response to the brutal 7 October Hamas attack have been women and children.

An estimated 85 per cent of Gaza’s population has been internally displaced, according to the UnitedNations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.

Thus far, only a weeklong temporary ceasefire at the end of November has paused the fighting, allowing aid to trickle into Gaza as both Israel and Hamas exchanged detainees held in their custody.

US officials have said they support temporary “humanitarian pauses” in the conflict, rather than urging for a full-in ceasefire, a stance that human rights groups and nations critical of the US have argued amounts to being complicit in war crimes.

Mixed reaction from world leaders

The resolution, which passed 13-0 with abstentions from Russia and the US, was greeted with a mix of world opinion.

Russia abstained in protest, arguing the resolution would allow Israel to continue a ground invasion of Gaza that has carried a vast civilian death toll.

“By signing off on this the Council would essentially be giving the Israeli armed forces complete freedom of movement for furthering clearing of the Gaza Strip, and anyone voting for the text as it is currently worded would bear responsibility for that,” Russian Ambassador Vassily A Nebenzia told the UN chamber on Friday.

The UAE’s Lanna Nusseibeh, meanwhile, defended the proposal, while voicing larger criticisms of Israel’s policy towards Palestine.

“The text compels the international community to finally share in the burden that Egypt has been shouldering and it commits all of us to breaking the cruel blockades strangling Gaza for the last 16 years,” she said after the vote.

“The injustice of the occupation persists with the international community’s complicity. If you have a moral, national or political interest in saving the two-state solution, you must act now. This resolution gives us an opportunity to demonstrate that at the very least, the world will not tolerate the continued deprivation of the people of Gaza from basic necessities,” she added.

Israel, meanwhile, called the resolution “unnecessary.”

“In our view, the resolution is unnecessary and proves the inability for the UN to play a positive role in the conflict. After nearly three months, the UN has yet to condemn the massacre of October 7,” an Israeli official told CNN.

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