Veto in UN Security Council isolates US on Gaza ceasefire

ISRAEL, PALESTINE AND THE WAR ON GAZA

Gaza death toll has increased by 40 percent compared to before the temporary humanitarian truce. – Euro-Med Monitor

This brings the total number of Palestinian deaths in the Gaza Strip since 7 October to 21,731, including 8,697 children and 4,410 women as well as those missing and trapped under the rubble who are now presumed dead.

Detention and public humiliation of Palestinian men and boys in Gaza

Israeli TV on Thursday showed footage, which Reuters has verified, of what it said were captured Hamas fighters, stripped to their underwear with heads bowed sitting in a Gaza City street. The group includes boys as young as 14, at least one journalist and others with no apparent connection to Hamas.

Concerned about the images, Jessica Moussan, ICRC Media Relations Advisor, Middle East, said in a statement:

We strongly emphasize the importance of treating all those detained with humanity and dignity, in accordance with international humanitarian law.

The London-based Arabic language news outlet Al-Araby Al-Jadeed said one of the men detained was its correspondent Diaa Kahlout. The Committee to Protect Journalists called for his release.

arbitrary arrest – Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said the men were “arbitrarily arrested” in the northern Gaza Strip after Israeli forces surrounded two UN-affiliated shelters in the town of Beit Lahiya for days.

some of humanity’s darkest passages of history [evoked] – Husam Zomlot

Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestinian Mission in London, said on X the images evoked “some of humanity’s darkest passages of history.”

Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi said on X the incident was

a blatant attempt at the humiliation & degradation of Palestinian men … stripped & displayed like war trophies.

Palestinians mourn poet Refaat Alareer killed in Israeli air strike on his home

The renowned poet and academic was considered the ‘voice of Gaza’. – Al Jazeera

A prominent, and for some controversial, professor and leader of a young generation of Gaza authors, Alareer was a co-founder of the We Are Not Numbers project, which provides writing workshops for young Gaza Palestinians.  This poem he wrote a few weeks ago talks of his possible death:

According to the Euro-Med Monitor:

The Israeli airstrike that killed Prof. Refaat al-Alareer was apparently deliberate… The apartment where Refaat and his family were sheltering was surgically bombed out of the entire building where it’s located.

Israel silencing Palestinian voices as international sentiment shifts against them

Ahmed Bedier, from the NGO United Voices for America, said that Alareer’s regular interviews on television stations and radio shows, where he described what was happening in Gaza and the occupied West Bank to Western audiences, was the main reason that the Israeli army wanted to silence him:

The international sentiment has begun shifting against Israel. So they’re trying to silence any other narrative other than theirs.

Even less aid getting through as Gaza society is on the brink of a “full-blown collapse”

Thomas White, the head of UNRWA, the main UN agency in Gaza, tweeted on Friday:

Civil order is breaking down in Gaza … some aid convoys are being looted and UN vehicles stoned. Society is on the brink of full-blown collapse.

According to the Guardian, his comments came as Israel intensified its strikes on Gaza, hitting more than 450 targets across the territory from land, sea and air in the 24 hours up to Friday morning. It was the largest number of airstrikes in a 24-hour period since the temporary ceasefire ended a week ago.

US “pressure” on Israel to allow increased aid yields little results

Under so-called pressure from the US, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has “apparently agreed” to the potential opening — at a date yet to be agreed — of a second crossing “for inspections and screening” by Israel of humanitarian aid trucks, but incredibly, not for actual aid deliveries.

US urges civilian protection while arming Israel with massive bombs and artillery shells

The Guardian reports that on 7 December 2023,

In some of the strongest criticism of Israel’s conduct in its war with Hamas, Antony Blinken says Israel must put a ‘premium on civilian protection.’

He is further quoted as saying:

And there does remain a gap between … the intent to protect civilians and the actual results that we’re seeing on the ground.

But in the meantime, the paywalled Wall Street Journal captures perfectly the hollowness of those words in an article entitled U.S. sends Israel 2,000-Pound Bunker Buster Bombs for Gaza War (1 December 2023), with the under-banner reading:

After sending massive bombs, artillery shells, U.S. also urges Israel to limit civilian casualties.

The Rideau Institute comments:

Does Secretary Blinken not recognize the irony of a US representative drawing attention to the gap between rhetoric and action on the Israeli side?

This yawning American credibility gap turned into a chasm with the lone “no” vote and US veto at 3:50 pm on Friday, 8 December of a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, which we will consider in detail after an update on ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan.

Update on ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan

In last week’s post, we reviewed evidence of a possible disturbing lack of commitment by the ICC Prosecutor to the robust investigation of war crimes in Palestine. We now revisit the issue in light of a statement issued by Khan following his visit to Israel and Palestine.

Statement by ICC Prosecutor following his visit to Israel and Palestine

On 3 December 2023, on the conclusion of the first visit by an ICC prosecutor to Israel and the State of Palestine (Ramallah in the Occupied West Bank),  Karim Khan issued a statement on the need

to ensure that the protection of the law is felt by all.

No direct ICC jurisdiction over Hamas crimes in Israel

Having visited the scene of the 7 October Hamas atrocities, Khan describes them as representing “some of the most serious international crimes that shock the conscience of humanity” — language he does not subsequently use in relation to the crime of starvation in Gaza or any other alleged Israeli crime.

 we stand ready to work in partnership – Karim Khan

However, Khan does back away from his earlier problematic assertion of ICC jurisdiction over the 7 October Hamas attacks in Israel, in favour of engagement with Israeli authorities on the basis of “complementarity” and “partnership”, bearing in mind his jurisdiction over the holding of the hostages in Gaza.

He further clarified:

Such engagement, like my visit, would be without prejudice to the position of Israel on jurisdiction, and as a non-State Party to the Rome Statute.

As we noted in last week’s post, the ICC may exercise jurisdiction in a situation where genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes were committed on or after 1 July 2002 and:

  • the crimes were committed by a State Party national, or in the territory of a State Party, or in a State that has accepted the jurisdiction of the Court; or
  • the crimes were referred to the ICC Prosecutor by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) pursuant to a resolution adopted under chapter VII of the UN charter.

As Khan noted above, Israel is not an ICC State Party; nor has it accepted the jurisdiction of the Court.

No condemnation of Israeli crimes in Gaza

Concerning Gaza, after condemning Hamas for ongoing violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), Khan’s statement then emphasizes the need for, and the ability of, Israel to comply with the “clear legal parameters that govern armed conflict,” further asserting:

As I have stated previously, Israel has trained lawyers who advise commanders and a robust system intended to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law…. On this visit, I again stressed that the clear legal principles of distinction, precaution and proportionality must be complied with so that the protection of the law is rendered meaningful for those who need it.

He then adds:

I emphasized that not only must the letter of the law be complied with, but also the spirit upheld.  International humanitarian law and the provisions of the Rome Statute are there to protect the most vulnerable.

The Rideau Institute comments:

There is something completely surreal about Khan’s reference to “the spirit” of IHL needing to be upheld against the backdrop of an Israeli bombing campaign that has literally decimated the international legal principles of distinction, precaution and proportionality as effectively as it has decimated the bodies of thousands of dead and injured Palestinian children.

Humanitarian access is critical

Khan’s statement on humanitarian access starts out strongly:

On humanitarian access, the position is critical, and the law does not allow for doubt…. As I have repeatedly emphasized, civilians must have access to basic food, water and desperately needed medical supplies, without further delay, and at pace and at scale.

But in calling on “all actors to comply with international humanitarian law” regarding humanitarian aid, bizarrely he then only specifically names Hamas, enjoining the group not to “divert or misuse” the aid, with no direct reference to Israel, which is denying the aid in the first place.

West Bank settler violence

The part of Khan’s statement related to Israeli settler violence in the West Bank against Palestinians is quite strong, with the ICC prosecutor pledging:

I underlined that we are continuing to investigate these incidents with focus and urgency.

But the glaring omission in this part of his statement is any reference to the complicity of the Israeli authorities in these attacks, despite growing evidence that soldiers and settlers are working hand in hand.

Some Palestinian human rights groups refused to meet with Khan

A Reuters report from 2 December 2023 indicates that a number of Palestinian rights groups refused to meet with Khan, accusing him of prioritizing Israeli claims over longstanding Palestinian allegations of Israeli war crimes. Ammar Al-Dwaik, director general of the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) explains:

As Palestinian human rights organizations, we decided not to meet him.  I think the way this visit has been handled shows that Mr Khan is not handling his work in an independent and professional manner.

RI President Peggy Mason comments:

Khan’s unwillingness to directly criticize Israel speaks volumes. Let us hope that he removes any lingering doubts about his even-handedness through vigorous investigation of all war crimes within his jurisdiction.

UN Secretary-General invokes Article 99 of UN Charter

The Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security. – Article 99

Article 99 is a rarely used diplomatic tool that allows the head of the UN to call a meeting of the Security Council on his own initiative to issue warnings about new threats to international peace and security, and matters that are not yet on the council’s agenda.

In his 7 December letter to the UN Security Council invoking Article 99 of the UN Charter, Guterres references Security Council resolution 2712 (2023), which

calls for the scaling up of the provision of such supplies to meet the humanitarian needs of the civilian population, especially children.

However, in his view — which is backed by a  wide array of humanitarian agencies in the UN system

The current conditions are making it impossible for meaningful humanitarian operations to be conducted.

He summarizes the dire situation:

We are facing a severe risk of collapse of the humanitarian system. The situation is fast deteriorating into a catastrophe with potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as a whole and for peace and security in the region. Such an outcome must be avoided at all costs.

He then refers to the responsibility of the international community and in particular the UN Security Council:

The international community has a responsibility to use all its influence to prevent further escalation and end this crisis. I urge the members of the Security Council to press to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.

Call for humanitarian ceasefire

The Secretary-General concludes with a strong call for a humanitarian ceasefire:

I reiterate my appeal for a humanitarian ceasefire to be declared. This is urgent. The civilian population must be spared from greater harm. With a humanitarian ceasefire, the means of survival can be restored, and humanitarian assistance can be delivered in a safe and timely manner across the Gaza Strip.

Israel infuriated by Secretary-General’s move

The first-ever use of this power by Guterres since he became Secretary-General has infuriated Israel. In a post on X, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan described the letter as “more proof” of Guterres’s “moral distortion and his bias against Israel”.

As well as repeating his call for Guterres to resign, Erdan stated:

The secretary-general’s call for a ceasefire is actually a call to keep Hamas’s reign of terror in Gaza.

For his part, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen also accused UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of supporting Palestinian terror group Hamas, called for his resignation, and said his tenure as head of the world body was

a danger to world peace.

Gutsy effort by the UN Secretary-General

The UN Secretary-General has been calling for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” since October 18, and this gutsy diplomatic move seems intended to put pressure on the Biden administration given its potential isolation in the Council over the issue of an immediate ceasefire.

Despite a badly divided EU over the war, its foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, wrote in a post on X:

I ask the EU members of the UN Security Council and like-minded partners to support @UN Secretary General @AntonioGuterres’s call.

The #UNSC must act immediately to prevent a full collapse of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

The UAE submits new draft resolution calling for a “humanitarian ceasefire” 

In response to Guterres’s letter, the United Arab Emirates, the only Arab member of the UN Security Council, posted on X that

US opposes new UN Security Council Action on Gaza situation

The US deputy envoy, Robert Wood, told Reuters on Wednesday that the United States does not support any further action by the Security Council at this time, adding:

However, we remain focused on the difficult and sensitive diplomacy geared to getting more hostages released, more aid flowing into Gaza, and better protection of civilians.

The difficulty of getting further hostages released without a ceasefire was underscored on Friday, 8 December 2023 by a Reuters report of an alleged failed IDF Special Forces operation, which Hamas claims resulted in the death of the hostage — an Israeli soldier.

Commenting on US diplomatic efforts, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said:

Yes, Secretary Blinken tried. He did tell us that the Israelis committed to try to do more to protect civilians, but unfortunately we have not seen that materialise on the ground. The right to self-defence does not mean a licence to kill with impunity.

US reconfirmed its opposition upon the tabling of the resolution

Upon the tabling of the Arab-backed resolution, seconded by Ireland, calling for an urgent humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, “the immediate and unconditional” release of all hostages and “ensuring humanitarian access”, the US confirmed its opposition without then indicating formally that it would veto the resolution.

The resolution needed nine positive votes from the 15-strong Security Council to pass, and no vetoes from any of the five permanent members of the council.

Debate on the ceasefire resolution took place on 8 December 2023

Debate on the draft resolution took place during the morning of 8 December. The text of the opening statement by the UN Secretary-General is available here.

Unlike the ICC Prosecutor, Guterres specifically references both Hamas and Israeli violations of international law, saying in part:

And while indiscriminate rocket fire by Hamas into Israel, and the use of civilians as human shields, are in contravention of the laws of war, such conduct does not absolve Israel of its own violations.

Deputy UAE Ambassador to the UN Mohamed Abushahab told the council:

Today this council will vote, it will have an opportunity to respond to the deafening calls across the world to bring this violence to an end.

During debate US reiterates its opposition to a humanitarian ceasefire

Deputy US Ambassador Robert Wood repeated his opposition to the ceasefire resolution in the UN Security Council debate, arguing:

This would only plant the seeds for the next war — because Hamas has no desire to see a durable peace.

Voting on the resolution was delayed until later in the afternoon to allow for US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to meet in Washington with ministers from Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey.

In Washington, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told reporters that if the Security Council fails to adopt the resolution,

it is giving Israel a license to continue with its massacre of Palestinians in Gaza.

US casts lone “no” vote, thus vetoing the ceasefire resolution

With a vote of 13 in favour, one abstention (the UK) and one vote against, the US used its veto to prevent passage of the ceasefire resolution.

Suggesting that the UN Security Council was becoming “untethered” from its founding document, the UN Charter, Deputy UAE UN Ambassador Mohamed Abushahab asked the council:

What is the message we are sending Palestinians if we cannot unite behind a call to halt the relentless bombardment of Gaza?

The Rideau Institute comments:

The isolation of the United States on the UN Security Council vote should be the clearest possible message to Western countries like Canada that failing to call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire now is plainly unsustainable.

What is the real Israeli endgame?

Washington supports Israel’s contention that a ceasefire would leave Hamas entrenched in Gaza thus denying Israel its stated goal of “eliminating” Hamas. But doubts about the feasibility of this approach have been raised from the outset.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been calling for an immediate ceasefire for some time, has urged Israel to clarify its goals towards Hamas:

We are at a moment when Israeli authorities must more precisely define their objectives and their final goal: the total destruction of Hamas, does anyone think it is possible? If this is the case, the war will last 10 years.

The implausibility of Israel eliminating Hamas entirely, combined with its ever more brutal military tactics and its patterns of behaviour from the outset toward Palestinian civilians, has led to serious questions about whether Israel’s true endgame is, to quote European Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Tarek Megerisi, to

ethnically cleanse and seize as much land as possible, if not all, of the Gaza Strip.

On the media’s failure to adequately critique Israeli objectives, see  The “Hunt for Hamas” Narrative is Obscuring Israel’s Real Plans for Gaza (Adam Johnson, thenation.com, 7 December 2023).

Adam Johnson writes:

Israel is engaging in massive population transfers and attempting to depopulate Gaza, and everything it does must be understood through this lens….

Yet, throughout November, American media continued to frame every Israeli Defense Forces action in North Gaza as if every target they attempted to clear out was part of some elaborate “hunt for Hamas.”

Polling shows that more than two-thirds of Americans support a ceasefire

Mid-November polling indicates that more than two-thirds of Americans support a ceasefire in Gaza.

Tarek Megerisi, in a paywalled Arab Digest Newsletter interview entitled Winning the battle, losing the war (5 December 2023), comments on Israel losing the public debate:

And I think it says a lot that one month after what Hamas did, to massacre civilians in Israel in deeply distressing and inhuman ways …but despite all of that, to me, at least, it seems that Hamas are clearly winning the PR war here.

He continues:

And that should really spur a moment of self-reflection amongst the alliance [Western countries backing Israel] because honestly how disgusting do your own actions have to be to start off from the point of October 7, and still look like the bad guy here?

The Rideau Institute comments:

And that brings us right back to our earlier point about the moral hazard for Canada if we fail now to call for an immediate ceasefire.

Whither Canada?

CBC reports that a network representing influential Canadian Muslim donors to the Liberal Party of Canada has dropped out of the ranks of the party’s top donors, citing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s disinclination to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Their formal letter reads in part:

The [Liberal party] Leader does not appear to be interested in truly listening, nor interested in giving true value to international Law, nor truly caring about the children of Gaza. With broken hearts, we must depart the Laurier Club.

The donor group is made up mostly of Canadian Muslim professionals, and the Laurier Club is the upper tier of Liberal Party donors.

The article goes on to quote a long-time party organizer and prominent Canadian Muslim to the effect that, barring a change of government position by January, the group might have to consider

an escalation if Trudeau does not start calling for a ceasefire.

Next steps might include

telling specific Liberal MPs the group will throw its support to NDP or Green Party candidates in certain ridings, since those two parties have called for a ceasefire.

Individual Liberal MPs who have openly called for a ceasefire could still be supported, a member of the group added.

There is only one right way forward

RI President Peggy Mason comments:

There are assuredly political consequences for the Government of Canada whatever action it does or does not take. But one thing should be clear. There is only one right way forward and that is Canada’s unequivocal support for an immediate ceasefire.

We call on the Government of Canada to forthrightly declare its support for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, full humanitarian access and the immediate and unconditional release of hostages.

FOREIGN INTERFERENCE REGISTRY UPDATE

For some very good news, see Wesley Wark’s assessment  that, for all the reasons we outlined in several posts on this topic,

the issue of creating a foreign interference registry … seems to have vanished from political and media agendas.

See The Vanishing Foreign Interference Registry? (wesleywark.substack.com, 4 December 2023).

UKRAINE UPDATE

For more disturbing revelations of how negotiations in the very early stages of the Ukraine war may have been undermined by Western actions, see Did the West deliberately prolong the Ukraine war? (Branko Marcetic, responsible statecraft.org, 4 December 2023).

For a grim prognosis on renewed American aid to Ukraine, see the tweet by Bloomberg journalist Erik Wasson:

WE ALL HAVE A ROLE TO PLAY IN SECURING A GAZA CEASEFIRE

WE MUST CONTINUE TO PRESS OUR GOVERNMENT TO SUPPORT AN IMMEDIATE CEASEFIRE AND FULL HUMANITARIAN ACCESS TO GAZA.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: < justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca  >

Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly: < melanie.joly@parl.gc.ca >

Leader of the NDP Jagmeet Singh: < Jagmeet.Singh@parl.gc.ca >

Leader of the Conservative Party Pierre Poilievre: < pierre.poilievre@parl.gc.ca >

Leader of the Bloc Quebecois Yves-François Blanchet: < Yves-Francois.Blanchet@parl.gc.ca>

Green Party Critic Elizabeth May: < Elizabeth.May@parl.gc.ca >

And find your local Member of Parliament HERE.

Photo credit: UN Media (Gaza destruction); UNICEF (Gaza)

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