US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confers with Arab foreign ministers and Amre Moussa, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, at the UN prior to a Security Council meeting on the situation in Gaza. (Evan Schneider/UN Photo)
Israel rejected outright the weak UN Security Council’s “call” for “an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire.” What the Arab foreign ministers hailed as a triumph for their mission to New York was no more than a fig leaf to cover their failure before their increasingly angry and restive peoples who are ever more boldly denouncing Arab leaders’ inaction or complicity as Israel butchers Palestinians in Gaza.
Resolution 1860 was a shameless whitewash of the Israeli aggression and war crimes, which the Arab ministers had no choice but to take after having escaped in the direction of New York from the embarrassing alternative of an Arab summit.
The resolution has serious flaws that the Arab delegations should not have accepted under any circumstances. Calls for an Arab summit by the emir of Qatar and other Arab states to consider reaction to the Israeli onslaught on Gaza were strongly opposed by Egypt and several other states who now stand accused by their people of collaborating with the Israeli enemy, with evidence mounting daily in support of such accusations.
Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa brilliantly orchestrated the New York escapade. He, and the Arab foreign ministers who enthusiastically embarked on their United Nations mission (albeit after unjustified delay, which offered the aggressor precious time to spill more innocent Arab blood), realized the meaning of the possibility of failure. Thus their imperative shifted from ending the Gaza massacre to saving the ministers’ face.
By the time the Arab delegation arrived in New York, the Security Council had already turned down two attempts to order a ceasefire, obviously succumbing to pressure from Washington which, as usual, had ruled that Israel was acting in “self-defense” against Hamas, based on the false claims that the “terrorist organization” had refused to renew the calm and resumed firing rockets at tranquil and peaceful Israeli towns and villages.
For Washington, and others who supported this view including Arab states, Israel was entitled to have the time it needed to teach Hamas the lesson it deserved. Despite Musa’s rumblings, and those of other Arab officials, prominent members of the Arab delegation were close to this narrative. The Egyptian president, whose foreign minister’s role was key in New York, was quoted as informing the European delegation in Cairo earlier that Hamas should not be allowed to win. It is no surprise therefore that the general trend among the Arab ministers (with exceptions of course) was, on the one hand, to pretend that they were striving to bring the aggression to an end, while on the other signaling that they did not want any such accomplishment to benefit Hamas.
The Security Council resolution reflected just that. Initially the Arab delegation’s request for a ceasefire resolution was denied. They were offered instead a worthless presidential statement, which for them was too frivolous to provide any cover for their exposed undertaking. To avoid the embarrassment of returning home empty handed, the Arab ministers opted to scale down their proposed text and to dilute it to the point where it not only turned meaningless, but was counterproductive. Only then, and only when the ministers abandoned all their initial positions, did Washington permit the council to pass a resolution.
Until it was rejected by Israel, which continued its barbaric attack with renewed savagery, it could have been argued that the only positive element in Resolution 1860 is its call for a ceasefire. But even that clause was worded in such noncommittal language that in it, Israel read more encouragement.
The US abstention from voting in favor of the resolution, without blocking it by veto — obviously because it was utterly harmless — offered Israel further encouragement to dismiss the action as irrelevant. (It emerged later that the surprise abstention by the US was a result of an eleventh hour phone call from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to the White House urging rejection of the resolution even though the American delegation had approved the text.
But the Arab ministers had to hail the resolution as a substantial victory despite the dangerous implications involved.
The resolution failed to condemn an aggression which involved serious war crimes, as well as flagrant violations of international law and international conventions; it equated the victim with the aggressor and ignored the entire sequence of events leading up to Israel’s attack, which shows that Israel, not Hamas, violated the ceasefire. It also ignored Israel’s illegal aggression in the form of a lethal embargo on food, medicine, fuel and travel that amounted to collective punishment of Gazans.
Leaving aside its callous disregard for Palestinians, the council did not even bother to condemn Israel’s deadly attacks on UN staff, schools and other facilities.
Not content with ignoring Israel’s efforts to induce famine, the council accepted Israel’s claim that Palestinian efforts to bring basic supplies and weapons through tunnels constituted “smuggling” that should be stopped. Palestinians undoubtedly have a right to use any means necessary to circumvent the genocidal blockade being imposed by Israel and its allies. But they also certainly have a right to defend themselves, as do all people under such circumstances.
If the council were concerned with banning lethal arms, it should first and foremost ban its own members from delivering to Israel weapons that are being used openly to commit atrocities and massacres of civilians.
What the council adopted was the fake version of events peddled by Israel that Hamas had abrogated the calm with unprovoked rocket attacks on Israel.
The resolution further treated the Gaza tragedy in the same way it would a natural disaster, as if there were no aggressor accountable for his crimes; and it adopted the concept that the democratically elected government in Gaza is but a “terrorist organization” that should be punished and blamed for all that befell Palestinians in Gaza.
By entirely endorsing the Israeli position, despite the proven atrocities and the ongoing war crimes, Israel was justified in reading an exoneration and an encouragement in the Security Council’s feeble resolution. Further encouragement must have been derived from the resolution’s affirmation that the Arabs, despite the humiliation, are still groveling for “peace”. And by reaffirming the Arab Peace Initiative, the Arabs are proving yet again that neither insult nor injury in any amount would awaken in them any dignity or self respect.
Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations. This essay first appeared in The Jordan Times and is reprinted with the author’s permission.