Will the Gaza Ceasefire Resolution Make a Difference?

The Security Council finally passed a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The resolution was crafted by the so-called “E-10.” These are the ten non-veto-wielding elected members of the Security Council who can sometimes band together and shame the P-5 into taking action they might otherwise veto. In this case, the United States cast a decisive abstention, marking the first time that the Biden administration opted not to veto a Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The resolution cleverly adopts the formula long insisted upon by the United States, that a ceasefire must coincide with the release of hostages and increased humanitarian access for Gaza. Here’s the key text from the first operative paragraph of the resolution:

Demands an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan respected by all parties, leading to a lasting sustainable ceasefire, and also demands the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, as well as ensuring humanitarian access to address their humanitarian and medical needs and further demands that the parties comply with their obligations under international law in relation to all persons they detain.”

This is a significant development and marks a turning point in international diplomacy aimed at ending the fighting in Gaza. However, Security Council resolutions do not implement themselves. No matter how strongly worded the resolution is on paper, the impact of those words is entirely dependent on the willingness of Israel and Hamas to abide by the resolution. And here, it is unclear whether or not the resolution will have a meaningful impact on the ground. The early signs are not that promising.

Israel is stridently opposed to any limits on its operations in Gaza. Netanyahu blasted the Biden administration in a statement following the US abstention, calling the move “a retreat from the consistent American position since the beginning of the war,” and asserting that it “gives Hamas hope that international pressure will enable them to achieve a ceasefire without freeing the hostages.” Meanwhile, the Israeli government cancelled a planned delegation to Washington. Moments before the resolution passed, Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant expressly committed Israel to continuing its operations. “We will operate against Hamas everywhere — including in places where we have not yet been,” he said. “We have no moral right to stop the war while there are still hostages held in Gaza.”

And then there is the Biden administration. Abstaining, rather than voting in the affirmative, was itself a signal to Israel that the United States is still not fully committed to the idea of an immediate ceasefire. Today’s abstention calls into question the willingness of the Biden administration to take meaningful measures to ensure Israel’s compliance. These questions were heightened immediately following the vote when the US spokesperson suggested to journalist Rami Ayari that the resolution was somehow not binding. “We think that you must look at the words in a resolution to determine whether the resolution is binding. This draft does not have the words included in binding Chapter 7 resolutions that make them binding,” the US-UN spokesperson told Ayari. The Biden administration seems to be offering Israel an escape clause.

For its part, it is unclear whether or not Hamas will abide by the resolution. On the one hand, Hamas released a statement welcoming the resolution and said it was ready “to engage in an immediate prisoner exchange process that leads to the release of prisoners on both sides.” On the other hand, Hamas had previously been dragging its feet in hostage negotiations, which began in earnest last week. The resolution could add pressure on Hamas to meaningfully negotiate the release of its hostages. Either way, we will know soon enough.