The Security Council and the Conflict in Gaza

The statistics are alarming: As of 3 PM local time yesterday, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that at least 149 of the 194 people killed thus far have been civilians. That included 38 children. Over 1,300 people have been injured, and 18,000 seeking shelter in UNRWA school. There is also a brewing humanitarian emergency as 600,000 people risk losing access to safe drinking water. Meanwhile,  Israel has warned 100,000 people to flee their homes in northern Gaza or risk being bombed.

And just today, there is word that four Palestinian kids were killed when an Israeli mortar struck a beach. 

If this drags on much longer without a ceasefire brokered regionally, it is very likely that many members of the Security Council, including key American allies like France and the UK, will try to impose a ceasefire through a legally binding resolution. Such a move would put the Obama administration in a tough spot. In general, permanent members of the Security Council are loathe to caste lone vetoes; on this particular issue vetoing a ceasefire resolution would be deeply unpopular internationally and perhaps even jeopardize other foreign policy priorities. On the other hand, backing a ceasefire resolution without Israeli support could pose political problems domestically for the Obama administration.

A  Security Council vote to impose a ceasefire would be a no-win situation from an American political standpoint. This means that the closer the Security Council comes to voting on the matter, the more urgently the USA would want to do what it can to obviate the need for this kind of resolution by directly or indirectly brokering a ceasefire that Israel and Hamas can accept. But the USA does not have much time.  As the humanitarian situation in Gaza gets worse, there will be growing pressure by other Security Council members to move quickly on a legally binding ceasefire resolution.

The USA would not benefit from a showdown at the Security Council. But the only way to avoid that is to swiftly broker a ceasefire.

photo credit:  Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives