Has the world failed the Palestinians?
Once again, the United Nation’s premier body responsible for international peace and security failed in its duty. As Israel’s war on Gaza escalated the Security Council held two meetings, on October 8 and 13. But even as Gaza was turned into a killing field by indiscriminate and relentless Israeli bombings, these meetings ended in disunity and inaction. The first emergency meeting saw Western countries in the 15-member body seek only tough condemnation of Hamas without showing any interest in working to end the fighting. The Russian Permanent Representative to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia urged a cease-fire but this elicited no response from the US, UK and France.
The second closed meeting of the Security Council took place when the situation had deteriorated in Gaza to the point that the UN warned of the calamitous consequences of the unfolding humanitarian crisis. Thousands of Palestinians were killed, almost half of them children by the Israeli bombardment while all electricity, water, food, and fuel supplies were cut off to Gaza. An unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe unfolded, exacerbated by Israel’s order for 1.1 million people to leave northern Gaza – a move roundly denounced by the UN and aid agencies. It was expected that this worsening situation would goad Council members to forge unity and take action to stop the bloodshed and avert a bigger disaster.
This was not to be. The Security Council remained divided with sharp differences among members. The Russian representative sought an “immediate, durable and fully respected humanitarian cease-fire” and circulated a draft resolution calling for this. It expressed grave concern over the escalation in violence and called for unimpeded humanitarian access and release of hostages. It also condemned all acts of terrorism but did not mention Hamas.
This wave of global public support contrasts sharply with the positions adopted by Western governments.
Ambassador Nebenzia warned that the region was on the brink of a full-scale war. China’s envoy to the UN, Zhang Jun called for “all-out efforts to reach a swift cease-fire “to prevent further deterioration of a humanitarian disaster.” When put to a vote in a Security Council meeting on October 16, the Russian resolution failed to be adopted as it was unable to win the required nine votes. Russia, China, UAE, Mozambique, and Gabon voted for the resolution while the US, UK, France, and Japan voted against. There were six abstentions by Brazil, Malta, Albania, Switzerland, Ecuador, and Ghana. The US and its allies objected to the resolution principally because it didn’t condemn Hamas but they also seemed uninterested in supporting a cease-fire.
Meanwhile, Brazil, who holds the Council presidency this month, proposed a rival resolution focusing on the humanitarian situation but also condemning “the heinous terrorist attacks by Hamas.” This called for “humanitarian pauses” rather than a cease-fire to allow for “full, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access. It emphasized “the importance of preventing spillover in the region” and called for the release of hostages.” A vote on this is imminent but it is uncertain whether the resolution will pass given the differences among Council members.
Inaction by the Council is nothing new even though the Palestine question is the oldest item on the Security Council agenda. No people have endured more suffering and injustice than the Palestinians, who, for over seven decades have lived through the horrors of dispossession and displacement – driven from their homes and robbed of their homeland. Israel has over the decades defied countless Security Council and General Assembly resolutions that demanded an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and cessation of settler land grabs. The failure to implement these resolutions is a consequence of Western countries’ efforts to protect Israel. The US has on several occasions vetoed resolutions that censured Israel and called for an end to Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands.
The response from Muslim countries to the war in Gaza has yet to go beyond denunciations of Israeli actions. Toughly worded statements have been issued by the OIC and Arab League while consultations continue between heads of Muslim states. An unprecedented phone conversation took place between Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to discuss the grave situation. The Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan called for immediate de-escalation and access to Gaza for urgent humanitarian assistance in his meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. But so far, no collective action has been taken by Muslim countries to mount pressure on the US, the country that has leverage with Israel, to secure a cessation of hostilities. At the initiative of Saudi Arabia, an urgent ministerial meeting of the OIC executive committee is scheduled for October 18. The hope is that it will take some concrete action.
Meanwhile, there has been an unprecedented show of popular solidarity with the Palestinian cause across the world. In Muslim nations this was expected; in some capitals, the scale of protests has been significant. But many Western countries, including the US, UK, France, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Germany, and Italy have also seen protest demonstrations in support of the Palestinian people. This wave of global public support contrasts sharply with the positions adopted by Western governments.
The longer Western powers give Israel a license to continue its military aggression and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians the greater the threat to regional peace and security. The Middle East already stands at a dangerous crossroads. The seething fires of conflict and violence can engulf the entire region. For the brave Palestinians, this is the darkest period in their tortured history since 1948. But what the past lays bare is that their will to resist a cruel occupation will endure whatever the challenges.
- Maleeha Lodhi is a former Pakistani ambassador to the US, UK & UN. Twitter @LodhiMaleeha