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Can the Security Council Help Bring Peace to Gaza?

Dr Rajeesh Kumar is Research Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • March 28, 2024

    After 171 days of conflict in Gaza, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) finally adopted a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan. Introduced by Mozambique on behalf of the elected Council members (E-10) on 25 March, Resolution 2728 received 14 votes in favour and one abstention (United States).1 It calls for a ceasefire respected by all parties for lasting peace, demanding the unconditional release of hostages and ensuring humanitarian access.

    The resolution ended the state of paralysis of the Security Council and its repeated failures to effectively address the conflict in Gaza. However, despite the unified stance of the Council on ceasefire, Israel's response has raised doubts about the resolution's effectiveness in achieving peace. The US decision to abstain from the vote prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel the scheduled visit of his top advisers to the US for discussions on the offensive.2 Two ministers in Netanyahu’s war cabinet have also declared that the country will not abide by the resolution, further complicating the path to peace.3

    Security Council and the Gaza War

    On 7 October 2023, the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a large-scale armed attack against Israel, firing thousands of rockets and conducting raids in border areas, resulting in approximately 1,200 civilian deaths and the capture of 253 hostages. In response, Israel conducted air strikes against Hamas in Gaza. Subsequently, on 28 October, Israel initiated a ground offensive with the objective of eliminating Hamas and rescuing the hostages. United Nations reports that since 7 October, over 1,200 Israelis were killed, with more than 5,500 injured, while nearly 32,000 Palestinians were killed and about 73,000 injured.4

    Since the conflict began, the Security Council has voted on nine resolutions; however, only two have been adopted. The first three drafts were vetoed by the US.  The first resolution on 16 October 2023 drafted by Russia proposed an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. It  was however not adopted due to US veto.5 The draft received support from China, Gabon, Mozambique and the United Arab Emirates, while France, Japan, the US and the United Kingdom voted against it. The remaining six Council members abstained from voting.6

    The second resolution was drafted by Brazil, and voted on 18 October. Twelve of the Council’s 15 members voted in favour, while the US voted against, and Russia and the UK abstained.7 The UNSC also rejected two amendments proposed by Russia in the Brazilian draft, which called for an immediate, durable and full ceasefire, as well as for stopping attacks against civilians. The US explained the veto by stating that the resolution did not mention Israel's right of self-defence.8

    On 25 October, the UNSC voted on two competing draft resolutions—one from the US and the other from Russia—addressing the war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The US' draft failed due to the vetoes of China and Russia. The Russian draft saw the US and the UK voting against it, while China, Gabon, Russia and the UAE favoured it, with nine members abstaining.9

    After a series of negotiations, on 15 November, the UNSC adopted its first resolution on Gaza since the war began. Proposed by Malta, the resolution called for urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip to facilitate the provision of essential goods and services.  It was adopted with 12 votes in favour and three abstentions (Russia, the UK and the US).10 However, on 8 December, the US vetoed another resolution drafted by the UAE. There were 13 votes in favour and the United Kingdom abstained.11

    On 22 December, the UNSC adopted a resolution requesting the Secretary-General to appoint a Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator to establish a UN mechanism for speeding up humanitarian aid to Gaza.12 The resolution called for ‘urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip for a sufficient number of days to enable full, rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access’.13 It also emphasised the need for creating conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities.

    On 20 February 2024, Algeria drafted a resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. Despite receiving support from 13 out of 15 members, the resolution failed to pass, with the UK abstaining and the US voting against it.14 Again on 22 March, Russia and China vetoed a US draft that demanded a temporary ceasefire in Gaza.15 Three days later, the UNSC adopted Resolution 2728, effectively ending the nearly six-month-long paralysis of the Council regarding a ceasefire in Gaza.

    Resolution 2728 and its Implications

    Resolution 2728 calls for an immediate ceasefire during the month of Ramadan, which should be respected by all parties and lead to a lasting and sustainable ceasefire. It also demands the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, along with ensuring humanitarian access to address their medical and other needs. Furthermore, it demands that all parties comply with their obligations under international law regarding the detainees.

    The resolution carries political implications beyond its text, particularly due to the US decision to abstain, which enabled its adoption. In the past six months, the United States has vetoed five draft resolutions, three of which demanded a ceasefire in Gaza.

    Following the abstention, US explained that it did not oppose Resolution 2728 because its text aligns with Washington's position that any ceasefire text must include provisions for the release of hostages.16 The US said that a ceasefire would strengthen negotiations by Egypt, Israel, Qatar, and the US to achieve the release of hostages.

    The US decision not to veto the resolution signalled the White House's growing frustration with Israeli actions, including hospital attacks and aid restrictions in Gaza. Previously, the US had warned against Netanyahu's plans for a ground offensive in Rafah.17 Furthermore, criticism against the Biden administration is mounting, both domestically and internationally. Nonetheless, the US abstention did not signify a change in Washington's policy towards Israel. Last week, the US Congress approved US$ 3.8 billion in military aid to Israel and suspended funding to the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) until March 2025.

    Israel's response to the resolution indicates its reluctance to accept a ceasefire in Gaza. Israel has a history of flouting UNSC resolutions. For instance, in December 2016, the UNSC passed a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in Palestine as illegal and a violation of international law. Despite receiving 14 votes in favour and a US abstention, Israel chose to ignore this resolution.

    If Israel chooses the same path on Resolution 2728, the UNSC has limited options. The Council can pass another resolution specifically addressing the breach. This subsequent resolution may include punitive measures, such as imposing sanctions. However, it is unlikely that the US supports a resolution at the UNSC that imposes punitive measures against Israel. In such a scenario, Resolution 2728 would serve solely as a symbolic gesture, recognising the UNSC's limited influence on global peace and security issues. Nevertheless, the Council's ability to reach a consensus on the text, after five previous vetoes on the matter, may be viewed as a glimmer of hope.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.