The United States prevented U.N. Security Council diplomats from issuing a statement on Sunday calling for an immediate ceasefire in the latest eruption of violence, the worst since 2014’s Gaza War, between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers.
At an emergency online session of the 15-nation council, China, Norway and Tunisia gained near-unanimous backing for their proposed statement but failed to win approval from Israel’s ally, the United States, one of five permanent veto-wielding members of the United Nations’ most powerful body. China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom hold the other four permanent seats.
“Norway strongly believes the Security Council should speak with one voice and send a clear message. We will continue our dedicated efforts to pursue council action,” said Torunn Viste, Norway’s envoy to the Palestinian Authority, a day after Israel bombed some of Gaza City’s tallest buildings, including the offices of The Associated Press, Al Jazeera and other international news outlets warned in advance to evacuate. Israel alleged the building hid Hamas military assets.
Separately, the Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation, or OIC, with 57 member nations, issued a strong condemnation of “the barbaric attacks launched by Israel, the occupying authority, against the Palestinian people and their land and holy sites.” The latest violence erupted a week ago when Hamas fired long-range rockets at Jerusalem to support Palestinian protests over threatened settler evictions and clashes with police at Al Aqsa Mosque.
Emphasizing the U.N. Security Council’s responsibility to “act swiftly” to end the violence, the OIC said it also condemned the council’s “inertia in dealing with the Palestinian question, the oldest on its agenda,” which has failed to protect Palestinians from more deadly violence. “Failure of the Security Council to assume its responsibility to deal with this crisis will necessitate approaching the United Nations General Assembly to assume its responsibility,” the OIC added.
Underscoring the severity of the situation, eight foreign ministers and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres spoke at the New York-based Security Council session. Guterres decried the “utterly appalling” hostilities and called on all sides to end their most serious escalation of violence in Gaza and Israel in recent years.
“This latest round of violence only perpetuates the cycles of death, destruction and despair, and pushes farther to the horizon any hopes of coexistence and peace,” he said. “Fighting must stop. It must stop immediately. Rockets and mortars on one side and aerial and artillery bombardments on the other must stop. I appeal to all parties to heed this call. The United Nations is actively engaging all sides towards an immediate ceasefire.”
An urgent need for cessation of hostilities. In today’s UN #SecurityCouncil open debate, I repeated our condemnation of all attacks against civilians. It is vital that the Council speaks with one voice to address the situation – FM #Eriksen Soreide: https://t.co/uUH3cRnnVa pic.twitter.com/Euy5Mf2Q6e
— Norway MFA (@NorwayMFA) May 16, 2021
De-escalation and proportionality
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who presided over the council’s meeting because his nation holds its revolving monthly presidency, said the United States alone blocked the council from issuing a unified statement.
“Regrettably, simply because of the obstruction of one country, the Security Council hasn’t been able to speak with one voice,” he told the council. “We call upon the United States to shoulder its due responsibilities of taking a just position.”
Norway’s Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide said that since the council began meeting earlier in the week to discuss the resurgent violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation on the ground has significantly worsened. She lamented the “large number of children” killed in the attacks, which have damaged 35 schools in Gaza and three in Israel and forced hundreds of families to flee their homes.
“We call, again, for a de-escalation,” Søreide said. “We continue to condemn the rocket attacks by Hamas and other groups towards the civil population in Israel. They are unacceptable, and we recognize Israel’s right to self-defense. At the same time, we urge Israel to ensure proportionality in its response and to show the utmost restraint in order to protect civilians in line with international humanitarian law.”
The United Nations reported 10,000 people fled their homes in Gaza for schools, mosques and other shelters. Gaza’s health ministry said 145 people were killed by Israeli attacks and another 1,000 were injured; Israel said 10 civilians and two soldiers were killed in rocket attacks on its side.
At least 55 Palestinian children and two Israeli children were among the dead, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said. “Fear and destruction are mounting on both sides. In Gaza, schools have been destroyed, homes and offices have been flattened, and entire families have been displaced,” she said. “In Israel, schools, homes and buildings have also been damaged. Violence, killing and hatred must stop. International human rights and humanitarian law must be upheld.”
Despite opposing the council resolution, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the United States “has been working tirelessly through diplomatic channels to try to bring an end to this conflict” through White House discussions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, along with State Department talks with Egyptian and Qatari officials.
“In all these engagements with Israeli officials, the Palestinian Authority, and all regional partners, the United States has made clear that we are prepared to lend our support and good offices should the parties seek a ceasefire, because we believe Israelis and Palestinians equally have a right to live in safety and security,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
“The United States calls on Hamas and other Palestinian groups in Gaza to immediately halt rocket attacks and other provocations,” she said. “We also are deeply concerned about the ongoing intercommunal violence within mixed communities in Israel. We urge all parties to avoid actions that undermine a peaceful future.”