Failure over Gaza
With over 11,000 Palestinians killed by Israel’s brutal war on Gaza, there is still no end in sight to the hostilities that have produced a humanitarian catastrophe in the besieged enclave. The international community has failed to stop Tel Aviv from its genocidal actions despite growing global calls for an immediate cease-fire.
The principal obstacle to a cessation of hostilities is the US which has done little to restrain Israel from its relentless bombardment of Gaza. Washington has repeatedly ruled out a cease-fire, in support of Israel’s refusal to halt its military actions. The humanitarian pause the Biden Administration claimed to have persuaded Israel to agree to – involving four-hour daily ‘pauses’ in bombing – is meaningless as it only allows Israel to continue its heavy bombardment targeting hospitals, schools and refugee camps. Pauses between rounds of mass killings is anything but humanitarian. Moreover, Tel Aviv never announced it agreed to this.
Three attempts to secure a cease-fire failed in the UN Security Council. The world’s most important diplomatic forum remains divided and in a state of paralysis. The last effort to pass a resolution calling for a cease-fire was vetoed by the US. Mounting international pressure including from UN officials has urged US officials to express concern for civilian casualties in Gaza but it is too little, too late. With Washington still unwilling to back a truce, such concern is shorn of meaning. Asked why the US doesn’t support a cease-fire, White House spokesman John Kirby offered the disingenuous explanation that “at this time it would benefit Hamas and legitimize its attack of October 7.” This means the US has given Israel a free pass to continue its military campaign and siege of Gaza, despite the humanitarian catastrophe this has caused.
The longer Israel’s war on Gaza continues, the higher the risk of the conflict expanding into a multi-front one across the Middle East.
Among publics across the world, Israel and the US are increasingly isolated. The tide of global public opinion has shifted decisively in solidarity with the Palestinians and against Israel and its main backer. Across the world people have come out in unprecedentedly large numbers demanding a cease-fire. Public fury over Israeli actions has been expressed in these protest rallies, including in cities in the West, which is in sharp contrast to the position adopted by Western governments. London and Washington saw huge pro-Palestinian rallies. Separately, over a hundred Congressional staffers in Washington staged a walk out to demand that lawmakers should support a cease-fire.
Top UN officials have not minced words in describing the humanitarian disaster as the result of collective punishment which is a violation of international humanitarian law. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Gaza has become a “graveyard of children” and “the nightmare in Gaza is more than a humanitarian crisis, it is a crisis of humanity.” One Palestinian child is now being killed in Gaza every 10 minutes.
Entreaties by UN officials for an urgent cease-fire and call for a truce from much of the international community have fallen on deaf ears in Tel Aviv and Washington. This makes the outlook exceedingly grim. Emboldened by US support, Israel has stepped up raids across the occupied West Bank, leading to over 180 Palestinian casualties since October 7. It has also encouraged rising violence by Jewish settlers against the Palestinians. The situation there is said to be close to boiling point.
The response from Muslim countries has neither matched the catastrophic situation in Gaza nor met the expectations of their own people. A summit meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) was called in Riyadh after over a month of Israel’s war in Gaza. This saw toughly-worded speeches by leaders and condemnation of Israel but fell well short of taking any action that could mount significant diplomatic pressure on Israel and the US.
Meanwhile fears grow of the war spilling over into the region. No country wants a wider conflict. But the longer Israel’s war on Gaza continues, the higher the risk of the conflict expanding into a multi-front one across the Middle East. Already the statement by an Israeli minister that a nuclear strike on Gaza was an option set off alarm bells around the world. Although the minister was suspended (not sacked) from the cabinet, his irresponsible remark laid bare the dangerous thinking in the Israeli government and provoked a slew of condemnations from Muslim countries and even Washington.
With Israel continuing on an escalatory course, a regional conflagration cannot be ruled out as neighboring countries come under mounting pressure. Iran’s foreign minister has warned that Israel’s heightened aggression would make a widening in the scope of war “inevitable.” The only way to avert this is an immediate cease-fire and halt to the forcible displacement of the Palestinian people.
– Maleeha Lodhi is a former Pakistani ambassador to the US, UK & UN. Twitter @LodhiMaleeha