Inabsolute veto

Rejected and not-yet-proposed ceasefires in Gaza

On Tuesday, the United States cast the sole vote against a U.N. Security Council Resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Because the Security Council’s rules were made up by the victorious Allies of World War II, all of whom considered democracy as a thing flowing from and contingent on their imperial prerogatives, that vote counted as a veto. That meant the best hope for a ceasefire ahead of Israel’s threatened ground invasion of Rafah—the last uninvaded city on the strip housing over 1.5 million Palestinians, the vast majority of whom fled there since Oct. 7—failed on a vote of 13 votes in favor to one against, with the United Kingdom abstaining.

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the resolution sponsored by Algeria would have “jeopardiz[ed]” hostage negotiations between Israel and Hamas, which are being mediated by Washington, Egypt, and Qatar. This was despite the fact that the Algerian resolution explicitly demanded “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, as well as ensuring humanitarian access to address medical needs of all hostages.”

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(I’m guessing Israel would have objected to that provision in any case, because some states have described the thousands of Palestinian men, women, and children it holds under so-called “administrative detention,” without charges or a right to a trial, as “hostages” of a kind, who might also have to be released. Also because the proposed text further demanded “that the parties comply with their obligations under international law in relation to all persons they detain and respect their human rights,” which is another thing that Israel adamantly refuses to do. All of which may be irrelevant anyway, given that Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotirch let the mask slip this week, telling Israeli public radio that bringing the hostages home is “not the most important thing.”)

But, you may have heard, the U.S. has proposed an alternative ceasefire resolution. That’s a notable step, given that Washington has now vetoed two Security Council resolutions demanding a ceasefire and voted against a third, non-binding attempt in the General Assembly in December. In addition to being the first time the U.S. would formally call for a (temporary) ceasefire in Gaza at the U.N., the draft U.S. text specifically rejects the planned Israeli ground offensive in Rafah (though it does so using weasel language, saying only that it “should not proceed under current circumstances”). The text uses even stronger language in calling out “any other effort at forced displacement of the civilian population in Gaza” as a “violation of international law,” and condemns “any actions by any party that reduce the territory of Gaza, on a temporary or permanent basis,” including through the creation of “so-called buffer zones,” “calls by government ministers for the resettlement of Gaza,” as well as “the widespread, systematic demolition of civilian infrastructure.”

The problems are not only that Israel’s “widespread, systematic demolition of civilian infrastructure” as well as the construction of an illegal “buffer zone” in northern Gaza have already happened, but that there is no real indication that the alternative resolution is anything other than a political stunt. Reuters reports that the U.S. mission “plans to allow time for negotiations and will not rush to a vote.” I caught Axios’ Barak Ravid on NPR this morning saying that the rival text was in effect a failed parliamentary maneuver, floated in hopes of convincing enough Security Council members to vote against the Algerian resolution so the U.S. wouldn’t have to embarrass itself again with yet another veto of an anti-genocidal resolution (I was driving and didn’t have time to transcribe it exactly). That seems plausible to me.

I suspect a more important audience is the increasingly irate progressive and Arab-American blocs within Biden’s hoped-for electoral base, whom the White House may hope will be mollified by a string of headlines like “Biden to go to UN Security Council to force temporary cease-fire on Israel, halt Rafah offensive” (Fox News) or “Biden, tired of being ‘Genocide Joe, Finally Blinks, will push UN Resolution for Temporary Gaza Ceasefire” (Informed Comment). If so, they must be counting on said voters not to follow up on such niceties as whether such a resolution ever actually gets passed (much less implemented). Or whether a single crate of the tens of millions of dollars worth of MK-82 bombs or KMU-572 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, et al, that Biden is planning on sending to the Israeli military in the run-up to the Rafah invasion gets withheld in the meantime.

But maybe Biden will surprise everyone. It’s happened before.

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