UP EXPERT OPINION: UN Security Council and the elusive ceasefire: Can states break stalemate?

Posted on April 10, 2024

In light of persistent breaches of every "red line" delineated by international law and the repeated erosion of the moral imperatives of human conscience since 7 October, a pivotal question emerges: What constitutes the enduring purpose of international law and the UN? 

After 170 days of Israel's relentless genocidal campaign in the occupied Gazan territories, the UN Security Council, convened on 25 March to adopt a resolution urging an immediate ceasefire throughout the month of Ramadan. 

The resolution called for the unconditional release of hostages and for ensuring humanitarian access to Gaza. The resolution garnered 14 affirmative votes, with the US abstaining. This move has sparked debate and raised concerns about the efficacy and relevance of international institutions in addressing humanitarian crises and upholding global order. 

A breakdown of norms 

What is known is that the fundamental purpose of states is to establish and maintain norms and order, both domestically and globally, while envisioning and pursuing the realisation of an ideal society. The ongoing genocide in Gaza illustrates a breakdown of norms and a regression into chaos.

Despite South Africa's case at the International Court of Justice and the rulings given by the world's highest court, Israel has flouted all international laws and brazenly continues killing Palestinians – in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and occupied Palestinian territories.

The world simply looks on, managing only a few breaths of condemnation, even "in the context of the utter depravity we've witnessed", former Israeli professional footballer Alon Mizrahi wrote on X (formerly known as Twitter) as he reflected on what happened at Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital.

"Israel begs humanity to stop it. And no one listens," said Israeli author David Grossman. 

Considering the prevailing political and legal vacuum, one is inclined to invoke Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci's assertion from the 1920s, wherein he elucidated the tumultuous conditions of that era.

Gramsci contended:

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.

This perspective resonates with the circumstances surrounding the US' abstention at the Security Council, followed by its assertion that the vote was "non-binding" and thus inconsequential. 

It is inconsequential because the US knows that despite demanding a ceasefire, it will not happen. Who will enforce it?

It is inconsequential because the US knows that it is still sending arms to Israel, and there are no immediate processes in place to call for sanctions.

It is inconsequential because the US is assisting Israel in planning the evacuation and housing of Gazans in approximately 45 000 tents in the Sinai and then greenlighting the carpet-bombing of Rafah to clear out the Palestinians and steal their land. 

Questions have once again arisen regarding the substantial financial and military support provided by the US to Israel, prompting scrutiny of the underlying motivations driving such assistance. 

Veteran US diplomat Chas Freeman has voiced skepticism regarding the rationale behind this support, particularly in light of claims that it is rooted in shared values between the US and Israel. Freeman has drawn attention to what he perceives as a disconcerting parallel between Israel's actions and the values espoused by groups like the Ku Klux Klan, citing events in Gaza as "a mass lynching."

Furthermore, concerns have been raised about the strategic benefits, if any, the US supposedly derives from its support for Israel. These observations suggest a complex interplay between political interests, financial gains and geopolitical strategies. Many US politicians who are indebted to the global financial elite are incentivised to support Israel's actions in Gaza to advance larger economic projects in the region, such as the Ben Gurion Canal project and the mining of Gaza's offshore gas.

Additionally, some within the US political elite stand to benefit from potential real estate ventures in Gaza, including prized "waterfront" properties touted by figures like Jared Kushner. The canal and gas projects are intricately linked to the Ukraine-Russia conflict. The US has to secure an asset that will effectively undercut Russian gas and its supply to Europe. This is also about the US obsession with beating Russia.

What is being planned for Gaza is already transpiring in Ukraine. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, an academic report by the Oakland Institute, titled War and Theft: The Takeover of Ukraine's Agricultural Land, sheds light on the intricate financial interests and underlying mechanisms contributing to the continued consolidation of land and finance in the region. The report has raised concerns over Ukraine's staggering debt, highlighting how financial institutions are leveraging it to push for extensive privatisation and liberalisation reforms post-war, as the country navigates its path to reconstruction. The very same discussions and plans are already in place for Gaza. 

Unraveling this aspect is imperative for comprehending the significant stakes entangled within the ongoing war and the behaviour of the US at the Security Council. So, whether a Security Council resolution is binding or non-binding, as is being argued, quite frankly, is inconsequential because, even though it is binding, who will rein in a nuclear-armed state operating outside conventional norms? And who can contend with the far-reaching grasp and control of the owners of global and financial capital? In the absence of a refined strategy and enforcement mechanisms within international law, the result is a stalemate.  

Gramsci's quote is now more than ever applicable to the current global landscape, suggesting a stagnant state of affairs where "the old is dying and the new cannot be born". Until emerging powers from the global South, and courageous leadership from BRICS+, establish a rehabilitated international framework supported by enforceable laws, the impasse is likely to persist. 

What is significant is that the entire shift has come because of Gaza. The unity of purpose and decision-making between the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) – led by dynamic, educated young Arab leaders – is something to monitor. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Yemen have forged ties and are working towards regional stability despite relentless efforts to fuel tensions between these countries.

The OIC consists of 57 member states whose populations are young and vehemently anti-Zionist and anti-US establishment. Join these nations with most in the AU and BRICS, add all their alliances and one can already see a very changed global order – both in perspective and emotion.  

Breaking the stalemate would necessitate consolidating their geopolitical influence and persuading global capital owners to align with their interests, highlighting the potential financial repercussions of maintaining the status quo. When this happens, the US will break ranks with Israel.

Alternatively, the more confident states in the Security Council can take ownership of the US handbook and invoke the "rules-based system". This approach could take us straight into World War 3 or, if orchestrated well enough, lead to a checkmate. Either way, every minute the pieces do not move, more blood will be spilled. 

Dr Quraysha Ismail Sooliman is a National Institute of the Humanities and Social Sciences postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria.

This article first appeared in News24 on 5 April 2024.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Pretoria.

- Author Dr Quraysha Ismail Sooliman

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