On 8th December, the United Nations Security Council’s draft resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire was vetoed by America. At the same time, the UK abstained. The vote came after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made a rare move two days before to formally warn the 15-member council of a global threat from the two-month-long war.
As Gaza is pushed by Israel even further into a pit of terror and despair, the failure of the United Nations to agree a form of words that will put pressure on Israel to bring an end to the brutal assault is troubling. It is obviously catastrophic for the people of Gaza who feel that their plight is being ignored by world leaders, who are witnessing a level of unbelievable cruelty. It is also troubling that an organisation, set up in 1945, with the goal of promoting peace and security on a global scale, appears to be so ineffectual.
The problem lies in the structure of decision-making. Whilst the United Nations Security Council does not require a unanimous vote for all decisions, it does have a special voting power known as the “right to veto” for its five permanent members: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The United States chose to exercise this veto on the basis that not to do so “would only plant the seeds for the next war, because Hamas has no desire to see a durable peace”. Washington instead said it supports pauses in fighting to protect civilians and allow the release of hostages taken by Hamas in a deadly 7th October attack on Israel.
In recognition of the seriousness of the situation, the remaining 13 of the 15 current members of the UNSC voted in favour of the resolution put forward by the United Arab Emirates and co-sponsored by 100 other countries.
There is evidence that Biden is out of step with many American citizens. Following the veto, Biden saw his approval rating slump to a record low of 37 per cent. A separate survey indicated that 61 per cent of likely voters want the White House to support calls for a permanent ceasefire and a de-escalation of the violence in Gaza.
At the same time there was fury from human rights groups. Human Rights Watch accused the Biden administration of being “complicit in war crimes”.
The day following the vote, officials disclosed that Biden had side-stepped Congress by approving the supply of $106m of ammunitions for the Israel Defence Forces. Secretary of State Antony Blinken deemed that “an emergency existed that required the immediate sale”.
It is difficult to understand why Biden is choosing to define Israel’s so called ‘right to self-defence’ in a way that justifies the killing of nearly 18,000 people to date, that supports the bombing of their hospitals, their homes and their villages, and is allowing children to be killed in their beds, buried alive and starved. There is, of course a powerful Jewish lobby in the USA and, in terms of their strategic interests, the USA has seen Israel as a friendly nation holding the balance of peace in the Middle East.
Maybe it is clutching at straws, but Palestinian supporters have focused on a recent tweet from Biden they believe may suggest a slight hardening of his attitude towards Israel. The tweet warns Israel against its increasingly aggressive military offensive, pointing out that it is working to Hamas’s benefit.
The Guardian reported Rae Abileah, a Jewish clergyperson saying: “Perhaps people-powered movements and democracy are showing some signs of working. The job of elected officials is to represent their constituents, who are overwhelmingly clamouring for a ceasefire, who are overwhelmingly against this grotesque violence which we are seeing on our phones and our social media the way we saw the violence in the Vietnam war.”
The fact that people are being forced to look for such small signs of hope from their leaders, in the face of such carnage, is difficult to comprehend.
By choosing to abstain, the UK has also sent a very clear message of support to Israel. Its reason for not voting on the resolution was that it “does not condemn the atrocities Hamas committed against innocent Israeli civilians on 7th October.”
It attempted to salve its conscience by adding that it is “gravely concerned” about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and that civilian deaths and displacement in the strip cannot continue.”
The only noticeable opposition to this position was from the Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf who described it as “incomprehensible” that Starmer was silent.
Meanwhile the loudest criticisms on this decision were from people on the Tory right who felt that it hadn’t gone far enough in support of Israel. Robert Jenrick warned that Britain must stand by Israel as he criticised the “disappointing” decision to abstain in a UN vote calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, also criticised the decision and described the UN resolution as “hypocritical”.
She said: “Thank you USA for supporting Israel’s right to defend herself. The UK’s abstention was very disappointing.”
There is a faint glimmer of hope that the United Nations may be able to do more to put pressure on Israel, despite the USA veto. Egypt and Mauritania have invoked Resolution 377A (V), which says that if the UN General Assembly (UNGA) is not able to discharge its primary responsibility of maintaining global peace due to lack of unanimity, the UNGA can step in. However, the recommendations are legally non-binding and Israel has ignored several UN resolutions in the past.
Meanwhile, as powerful, rich and well-fed people argue about semantics, another child will lose his or her life, another family will be torn apart and cries for help will go unheard by the very organisation that was set up to ”save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Whilst the organisation supposed to promote peace and the politicians who should have a moral duty to promote it have let down Gaza, ordinary people, in their millions have risen to the challenge. Since the Israeli bombardment began in every major city around the world we have seen people power at work as the demonstrations demanding a ceasefire have grown larger and larger. If there is an end to be found in this terrible situation, it will not come from the semantic games of diplomats and politicians but from the roar from below demanding justice.