How Israel-Hamas war in Gaza is testing the limits of the UN’s effectiveness

Analysis How Israel-Hamas war in Gaza is testing the limits of the UN’s effectiveness
A truck carrying fuel decorated with a UN flag crosses into Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 15, 2023. (AFP/File)
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Updated 22 January 2024
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How Israel-Hamas war in Gaza is testing the limits of the UN’s effectiveness

How Israel-Hamas war in Gaza is testing the limits of the UN’s effectiveness
  • Failure to secure a ceasefire and increase aid deliveries has laid bare the world body’s shortcomings, experts warn
  • US vetoes in cases where Security Council has tried to reprimand Israel blamed for undermining faith in world body

LONDON: Israel’s war with the Palestinian militant group Hamas in densely populated Gaza has exposed deep fractures in the international system, leaving many asking how the UN’s “two-tier” model can realistically live up to its purported aim of achieving global peace.

Criticism of the post-1945 international order is not new. In the context of Palestine, there have been innumerable UN General Assembly resolutions stretching back decades condemning Israel’s conduct in the occupied territories that have not been acted upon.

But with a deadlock among the permanent members of the UN Security Council — the body’s enforcement arm — and unanimity in the UN General Assembly on the need for an immediate ceasefire, questions have again arisen as to whether the UN is fit for purpose.

Wayne Jordash, a King’s Counsel and managing partner of Global Rights Compliance, says it is easy to roundly dismiss UN resolutions as lacking efficacy and teeth, and in the context of Gaza, there is clearly a lack of consensus in the Security Council around a ceasefire.

“Unfortunately, a similar assessment could be put forward for Tigray and Ethiopia and during the earlier years of the war in Syria,” he told Arab News.




A Palestinian girl looks for salvageable items amid the destruction on the southern outskirts of Khan Yunis in the war-battered Gaza Strip on January 16, 2024. (AFP)

Dag Hammarskjold, the Swedish diplomat who served as UN secretary-general from 1953 to 1961, once said that “the UN was not created to bring us to heaven, but to save us from hell.” More than 60 years later, this assessment still appears to hold true.

Omer Bartov, professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Brown University, Rhode Island, told Arab News that, given the choice, “having an international forum for states is much better than not having one.”

For the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip, who have endured months of Israeli bombardment and strict controls on the delivery of humanitarian aid, Bartov’s comments likely offer little in the way of reassurance.

INNUMBERS

  • 25,000+ Palestinians killed in Gaza fighting so far.
  • 2m+ Palestinians displaced in Gaza since Oct. 7.
  • 1,300 People killed in Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack in Gaza.
  • 240 Estimated people taken into Gaza as hostages.

Emily Crawford, a professor at the University of Sydney Law School, says the lack of immediate respite resulting from UN resolutions is often interpreted as inaction or impotence.

“Some resolutions are absolutely effective. The problem is they take time, and so a principle enunciated in a resolution may take years before it is accepted as binding international law with states complying accordingly,” Crawford told Arab News.

“Unfortunately, during wartime, victims don’t have the luxury of waiting for a resolution to eventually crystallize into international law.”




A Palestinian woman embraces an injured boy as they check the rubble of a building following Israeli bombardment, on January 18, 2024 in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP)

Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, has urged member states to use all available leverage in ensuring resolution compliance but is not blind to the reality of Israeli authorities ignoring both the General Assembly and the Security Council.

Such resistance was evident in the words of Israel’s prime minister a day after his country presented its defense in the genocide case brought against it by South Africa at the UN’s top court, the International Court of Justice.

“No one will stop us, not The Hague, not the Axis of Evil (referring to Iran and its militia proxies) and no one else. It is possible and necessary to continue until victory and we will do it,” Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Furthermore, aid agencies continue to decry what they consider to be the Israeli army’s deliberate holdups of the delivery of food and medicines in defiance of a Dec. 22 UN Security Council resolution.

“They continue to obstruct the entry of food, water, medicine and other essential goods into Gaza and make it extremely difficult and dangerous for that aid to reach all parts of Gaza,” Charbonneau told Arab News.

“Israel’s government is using starvation as a weapon of war, a war crime. Palestinian armed groups continue to indiscriminately fire rockets at civilian areas in Israel, also a war crime.”




A general view shows voting results during a UN General Assembly meeting to vote on a non-binding resolution demanding “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza on December 12, 2023. (AFP/File)

In some respects, understanding the UN’s effectiveness through the lens of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may itself prove counterproductive.

Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer at Israel’s Reichman University, believes it is important to discern the ways in which the parties involved affect a UN response.

Equally, he says, it is important to understand the twin limbs of the UN, with the General Assembly seen as offering a consensus international view with all member states able to vote.

Concurrently, the Security Council presides over the UN’s enforcement arm and, at any one time, is made up of 15 members, including the permanent five — China, France, Russia, the UK, and the US — who, through a veto right, can block resolutions.

Javedanfar argues that Washington’s use of its Security Council veto power was not intended to engender or suggest any sort of support for Palestinian suffering.

“The US is not using its veto because it wants the Palestinians to starve. It would not be in its interest to see that happen. They veto because they can see it is not just a question of pushing Israel to allow more humanitarian aid,” he told Arab News.

“It is the issue that Hamas, on the other side, has been stealing food and fuel and inspecting all this humanitarian aid. The UN is just part of the issue. It is also both of the parties involved.”




Trucks with humanitarian aid wait to enter the Palestinian side of Rafah on the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip on December 11, 2023. (AFP/File)

Some believe the inability of the General Assembly to impose any of its decisions exposes its shortcomings.

Dr. Ziad Asali, founder of the non-profit American Task Force on Palestine, says that without military or political tools to enforce decisions, the General Assembly would always be dependent on the states involved.

However, as Crawford points out, this was never the purpose of the General Assembly. “How do you measure the effectiveness of an instrument that was never meant to have binding force?” she said.

Given the UN Security Council’s power, by contrast, to impose compliance through the use of force, a question that has consistently been raised over the course of the Gaza conflict is why it has failed to do so.

Indeed, a month after the Dec. 22 UN Security Council resolution was passed, aid deliveries into Gaza have still not been ramped up.

“It has always been clear that the resolution adopted last month would only be implemented if the US insisted on it,” said Charbonneau.

“So, it’s up to the US, which worked hard to dilute the resolution during negotiations on the text, to use its considerable influence to make sure Israel complies with its obligations.”




A picture taken from southern Israel shows destroyed buildings in the Gaza Strip on January 17, 2024. (AFP)

Bartov, of Brown University, says the readiness with which the US has used its veto in instances where the Security Council has sought to reprimand Israel, has had a pronounced effect on the international community and could have long-term consequences for the make-up of the UN.

According to him, pressure is building on the UN to either rescind the veto right or for the US to change its policy, he said.

“The US is clearly indicating it may not veto resolutions on Israel without a change in Israeli policy,” he said. “And the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza is making it ever more difficult for the UN not to discuss, expose, and move against Israeli policies in Gaza.”




A woman carries cardboard boxes to use for a fire in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip on January 14, 2024. (AFP)

Notwithstanding the UN’s issues, Jordash, the King’s Counsel, says resolutions keep member states engaged in an issue, which could bring additional impetus to those states not complying with them.

For instance, non-compliant states could suffer reputational costs or find themselves subjected to sanctions.

Likewise, Charbonneau believes the need for members to continue to “use all their leverage with recalcitrant governments” could not be overstated.

 


Israeli jets strike Houthi targets in Yemen in response to attacks, military says

Israeli jets strike Houthi targets in Yemen in response to attacks, military says
Updated 27 sec ago
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Israeli jets strike Houthi targets in Yemen in response to attacks, military says

Israeli jets strike Houthi targets in Yemen in response to attacks, military says
  • A news outlet run by Houthi militia says the strikes targeted oil facilities and caused fatalities
  • Houthis used a long-range drone to target Tel Aviv on Friday, killing one man and injuring others

AL-MUKALLA: Israeli warplanes struck the Houthi-held western Yemeni city of Hodeidah on Saturday, apparently in retaliation for the Houthi drone strike on Tel Aviv earlier this week.

Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV reported that Israeli planes hit a power plant and a gasoline storage facility, killing and injuring several people.

Images circulating on social media showed a massive ball of fire and thick fog billowing from the targets.

Mohammed Abdul Sallam, the Houthi chief negotiator based in Muscat, said the airstrikes targeted “civilian” facilities to “pressure them to stop supporting Gaza,” vowing to continue attacks on ships and Israel itself until Israel ends its war in the enclave.

“We emphasize that this brutal aggression will only strengthen the determination and steadfastness of the Yemeni people and their valiant armed forces in their support for Gaza,” he said in a post on X.

Other Houthi officials vowed to retaliate. “We will respond more violently and harshly to this Zionist-American orgy,” Abdul Sallam Jahaf, a member of the Houthi Shura Council.

On Friday, the Houthis launched an explosive-laden drone into a Tel Aviv residential area, killing one person and injuring at least 10.

Critics of the militia argue the Houthis will use the bombings to legitimize their rule and crush dissidents in regions under their control.

“An Israeli airstrike is precisely what the #Houthis have long sought to legitimize their power consolidation. This event offers a pretext for increased repression of the population & violence in #Yemen and beyond. The Houthis excel at inviting conflict to sustain their authority,” Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. said on X.


Sudan fire kills nine

Emergency services rescued several people who had been trapped on the ground floor of the building.
Emergency services rescued several people who had been trapped on the ground floor of the building.
Updated 50 min 26 sec ago
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Sudan fire kills nine

Emergency services rescued several people who had been trapped on the ground floor of the building.
  • At least four people remain in hospital but are in stable condition, the police said in a statement

PORT SUDAN: Fire tore through an apartment block in Port Sudan killing nine people in the city which the Sudanese army has made its base during fighting with rival paramilitaries, police said Saturday.
Emergency services rescued several people who had been trapped on the ground floor of the building when an electrical short circuit triggered the blaze.
At least four people remain in hospital but are in stable condition, the police said in a statement, without saying when the blaze took place.
Sudan has been gripped by war since April 2023.
The conflict between the regular army under Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, has left tens of thousands dead and forced more than 10 million from their homes, according to the United Nations.


US criticizes ICJ opinion on Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories

Israeli security forces close-off a main entrance to Huwara town in the occupied West Bank following attacks by Israeli settlers
Israeli security forces close-off a main entrance to Huwara town in the occupied West Bank following attacks by Israeli settlers
Updated 18 min 30 sec ago
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US criticizes ICJ opinion on Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories

Israeli security forces close-off a main entrance to Huwara town in the occupied West Bank following attacks by Israeli settlers
  • “We are concerned that the breadth of the court’s opinion will complicate efforts to resolve the conflict and bring about an urgently needed” peace: State Department

WASHINGTON: The US criticized “the breadth” of the top UN court’s opinion that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is illegal, with Washington saying it would complicate efforts to resolve the conflict.
“We have been clear that Israel’s program of government support for settlements is both inconsistent with international law and obstructs the cause of peace,” a US State Department spokesperson said on Saturday in an email.
“However, we are concerned that the breadth of the court’s opinion will complicate efforts to resolve the conflict,” the State Department added.
The International Court of Justice, or the World Court, said on Friday that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and settlements was illegal and should be ended as soon as possible, delivering its strongest findings to date on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The State Department said the ICJ opinion that Israel must withdraw as soon as possible from the Palestinian territories was “inconsistent with the established framework” for resolving the conflict.
Washington said that framework took into account Israel’s security needs, which it says were highlighted by the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. Those attacks killed 1,200, with around 250 people taken as hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Two-state solution
The advisory opinion by ICJ judges is not binding but carries weight under international law and may weaken support for Israel.
The State Department said the way forward was through direct negotiations.
“Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the regime associated with them, have been established and are being maintained in violation of international law,” ICJ President Nawaf Salam said on Friday while reading the findings of a 15-judge panel.
The court said Israel’s obligations include paying restitution for harm and “the evacuation of all settlers from existing settlements.”
Israel rejected the opinion and said a political settlement can only be reached through negotiations. The office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the opinion, which it called historic.
The State Department said it “strongly discourages” parties from using the ICJ opinion “as a pretext for further unilateral actions that deepen divisions or for supplanting a negotiated two-state solution.”
The ICJ case stems from a 2022 request for a legal opinion from the United Nations General Assembly. It predates Israel’s war in Gaza, which began after the Oct. 7 attacks and has killed almost 39,000, according to the health ministry in Gaza, which has been under Hamas rule, while causing a hunger crisis, displacing Gaza’s nearly entire 2.3 million people and spurring genocide allegations that Israel denies.
The ICJ opinion said the UN Security Council, the General Assembly and all states have an obligation not to recognize the occupation as legal nor “render aid or assistance” toward maintaining Israel’s presence in the Palestinian territories.
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem — which the Palestinians want for a state — in the Six-Day War in 1967 and has since built and expanded settlements in the West Bank. 


Hezbollah, Hamas say launched rocket salvos at north Israel

Smoke rises from a fire after Hezbollah fired a barrage of projectiles towards Israel from Lebanon.
Smoke rises from a fire after Hezbollah fired a barrage of projectiles towards Israel from Lebanon.
Updated 20 July 2024
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Hezbollah, Hamas say launched rocket salvos at north Israel

Smoke rises from a fire after Hezbollah fired a barrage of projectiles towards Israel from Lebanon.
  • Hezbollah said it launched “dozens of Katyusha rockets” on Dafna, an area in Israel’s north, “in response to the attack on civilians”

BEIRUT: Hezbollah and its Palestinian ally Hamas said they launched rocket barrages at Israeli positions Saturday to avenge a strike that injured civilians in south Lebanon and the Gaza war toll.
Hezbollah has traded near-daily fire with Israeli forces in support of Hamas since the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack on southern Israel triggered war in the Gaza Strip.
Earlier Saturday, Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said Syrian nationals, including children, had been injured after an “enemy drone targeted an empty four-wheel drive” near their tent, less than four kilometers from the border.
Doctor Mouenes Kalakesh who heads the Marjayoun government hospital said a woman and her three children, two of them minors, had been admitted for shrapnel injuries after the strike outside Burj Al-Muluk.
Among them was an 11-year-old boy in critical condition after he sustained shrapnel injuries and a head wound, Kalakesh told AFP.
Hezbollah said it launched “dozens of Katyusha rockets” on Dafna, an area in Israel’s north that the group said it was targeting for the first time, “in response to the attack on civilians.”
On Wednesday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had warned his Iran-backed group would hit new targets in Israel if more civilians were killed in Israeli strikes.
Later Saturday, Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, said they fired a rocket salvo from south Lebanon toward an Israeli military position in the Upper Galilee “in response to the Zionist massacres against civilians in the Gaza Strip.”
The Israeli army said a total of 45 “projectiles” had been fired from Lebanon Saturday afternoon, toward the occupied Golan Heights and the Galilee, reporting no casualties.
The army said it struck “the launcher... in southern Lebanon from which the projectiles were launched toward the Golan Heights,” also targeting “an additional Hezbollah launcher.”
On Thursday, Israeli strikes killed at least five people, including the commander of a Hamas-allied group in Lebanon, militant groups and a security source said.
On Tuesday, Lebanese official media said separate Israeli strikes in south Lebanon killed five Syrians, three of them children, with Hezbollah announcing rocket fire at Israel in retaliation.
The violence since October has killed at least 515 people in Lebanon, according to an AFP tally.
Most of the dead have been fighters, but they have included at least 104 civilians.
On the Israeli side, 18 soldiers and 13 civilians have been killed, according to Israeli authorities.


Israeli warplanes pound Houthi-held Hodeidah

Israeli warplanes pound Houthi-held Hodeidah
Updated 20 July 2024
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Israeli warplanes pound Houthi-held Hodeidah

Israeli warplanes pound Houthi-held Hodeidah
  • Houthi officials vowed to retaliate. “We will respond more violently and harshly to this Zionist-American orgy,” Abdul Sallam Jahaf, a member of the Houthi Shura Council

AL-MUKALLA: Israeli warplanes struck the Houthi-held western Yemeni city of Hodeidah on Saturday, apparently in retaliation for the Houthi drone strike on Tel Aviv earlier this week.

Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV reported that Israeli planes hit a power plant and a gasoline storage facility, killing and injuring several people.

Images circulating on social media showed a massive ball of fire and thick fog billowing from the targets.

Mohammed Abdul Sallam, the Houthi chief negotiator based in Muscat, said the airstrikes targeted “civilian” facilities to “pressure them to stop supporting Gaza,” vowing to continue attacks on ships and Israel itself until Israel ends its war in the enclave.

“We emphasize that this brutal aggression will only strengthen the determination and steadfastness of the Yemeni people and their valiant armed forces in their support for Gaza,” he said in a post on X.

Other Houthi officials vowed to retaliate. “We will respond more violently and harshly to this Zionist-American orgy,” Abdul Sallam Jahaf, a member of the Houthi Shura Council.

On Friday, the Houthis launched an explosive-laden drone into a Tel Aviv residential area, killing one person and injuring at least 10.

Critics of the militia argue the Houthis will use the bombings to legitimize their rule and crush dissidents in regions under their control.

“An Israeli airstrike is precisely what the #Houthis have long sought to legitimize their power consolidation. This event offers a pretext for increased repression of the population & violence in #Yemen and beyond. The Houthis excel at inviting conflict to sustain their authority,” Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. said on X.