A UN View of the Gaza Conflict

“Maximum restraint” is the maxim at the United Nations.

Earlier today, Ban Ki Moon briefed a special security council session on the current crisis in Israel and Palestine. From the UN News Center 

 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today warned the United Nations Security Council of the “risk of an all-out escalation in Israel and Gaza” and made an urgent appeal for maximum restraint, saying his “paramount concern is the safety and well-being of all civilians, no matter where they are.”

“Today, we face the risk of an all-out escalation in Israel and Gaza, with the threat of a ground offensive still palpable – and preventable only if Hamas stops rocket firing,” the Secretary-General told the urgently-called meeting of the Security Council Thursday morning on the Middle East, which he told reporters yesterday that he had requested.

The Secretary-General said over the past several days, the Palestinian factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad have fired more than 550 rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel, and the Israeli Defence Forces have launched more than 500 airstrikes on Gaza.

“It is now more urgent than ever to try to find common ground for a return to calm and a cease-fire understanding,” he said.

“Once again civilians are paying the price for the continuation of conflict,” Mr. Ban said. “My paramount concern is the safety and well-being of all civilians, no matter where they are. It pains me – and it should pain us all – to be reliving circumstances that are all too reminiscent of the two most recent wars in Gaza.”

So far, both sides are not heeding his call. The death toll so far is neatly 70 and counting in Gaza, including many children. Meanwhile, rockets are raining down deep inside Israel (though no Israeli has been injured so far).

From the UN’s perspective, this is first and foremost a humanitarian calamity. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which is a UN humanitarian organization dedicated to supporting the needs of Palestinian refugees, is reporting that several of its facilities, including six schools and two hospitals, have sustained damage.

From a political standpoint, this crisis is likely to demonstrate further divisions at the Security Council, with the United States not likely deviating from its role as Israel’s defender-in-chief. Should the conflict drag on for much longer, I would suspect that some members of the Security Council would draft a resolution (or at least a non-binding “presidential statement”) calling for a ceasefire. At this point, it is not likely that the USA would support these efforts; they would likely block consensus required for a presidential statement calling for a ceasefire. Also, if it came to it, the USA would also likely pull out all the necessary diplomatic stops to avoid having to veto a resolution calling for a ceasefire.

This dynamic played itself out back in 2012, when Israel launched a weeklong assault on Gaza following a barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza.  What has changed since then, from a Security Council point of view, is that Russia and the United States have become increasingly antagonistic, with both parties maneuvering to force the other to cast potentially embarrassing vetoes. I would not be surprised if Russia presses hard for a ceasefire resolution that it knows the USA would veto.

Photo Credit: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras