Gaza’s game of nations

Aziza Sami , Tuesday 26 Mar 2024

As Gaza turns into the chequerboard for global politics, Palestinians are paying the price, writes Aziza Sami

Gaza s game of nations
Gilad Erdan, permanent representative of Israel to the UN, and Thomas-Greenfield following a )UNSC meeting (photo: AP)


On Monday, for the first time since Israel’s incursion on Gaza began almost six months ago, the UN Security Council managed to issue a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire until the end of the holy month of Ramadan, along with the immediate and “unconditional release of all hostages,” in a reference to the Israeli hostages taken by Hamas on October 7.

The resolution also demanded allowing for the immediate flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza.

Unlike the three previous draft resolutions, submitted by Security Council members demanding a ceasefire in Gaza, this resolution was not vetoed by the US. The US abstained from voting, however, because the resolution did not explicitly condemn Hamas. Two days prior to this, Washington had — for the very first time since Israel’s military incursion into Gaza — presented a draft resolution stressing the “imperative” for a ceasefire. It fell short of actually calling for a ceasefire, but came close.

The American draft resolution was vetoed by Russia and China who both accused the US of hypocrisy and manipulation, and of making the ceasefire conditional on the release of Israeli hostages while omitting any reference to the civilians of Gaza and the fallout of Israel’s war on them.

What ensued in the halls of the UN was something akin to bickering, with the US Security Council Representative Linda Thomas-Greenfield calling the vetoes “cynical and petty” and undertaken to “spite the United States.”

When the resolution for a ceasefire was finally approved on Monday, Greenfield was quick to comment that it was “not binding,” thus inducing a new debate in the council on the obligation to implement ceasefire resolutions. Meanwhile, US-Israel relations in the era of Joseph Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu reads like the story of a petulant child pushing its caregiver to the limits, but not quite.

Immediately on the back of the Security Council Resolution being approved, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced the cancellation of a scheduled trip by an Israeli delegation to Washington, something he had threatened he would do if it did not veto the Security Council Resolution.

But his Defence Minister Yoav Gallant is already in Washington, there to discuss Israel’s impending invasion of Rafah. This, the US had previously rejected as a “red line” that was not to be crossed. But it is now totally willing to discuss the “plan” for it. A statement issued by the US State Department in this respect said that talks with the Israeli defence minister would discuss “the need to ensure the defeat of Hamas, including in Rafah, in a way that protects the civilian population, does not hinder the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and advances Israel’s overall security.”

Such a statement could only have been described as laughable, had it not been so foreboding of the great human suffering that will ensue if an invasion by the Israeli army occurs in Rafah: a small area at the southernmost tip of the strip into which some one million Palestinians are crammed, after Israel hounded them there from every other part of Gaza.

There has been no US president more weak in his dealings with Israel than Joseph Biden, and no more flagrant manifestation of the tail vigorously wagging the dog than what is happening now in US-Israeli relations.

The stick of US admonition concerning the way Israel is conducting the war in Gaza remains make-believe: verbal condemnation, nothing more. The carrot of unequivocal US political support in all forums, especially the UN Security Council (and, more importantly, a never-ending military supply of tanks and weapons whose aim, in the words of US officials, is to ensure the total elimination of Hamas) is harrowingly real.

All talk of peace in Gaza, on the part of the US, is a mere tactic to be relegated to the overriding aim of totally immobilising it as an entity, both territorially and demographically.

As for the other players on the regional stage, Iran reached the height of its rhetoric on Gaza immediately following October 7, threatening retaliation yet abstaining at the very onset of Israel’s military incursion into the strip. This is because Iran does not want to engage in a conflict with the US, a fact of which the opposite is equally true. Tehran has rested content with unleashing low-grade resistance in the region by means of a pantheon of armed groups: Hizbullah, its most formidable arm; the Houthis; and, before that, Iraq’s Kataeb Hizbullah, which suspended its activities shortly after attacking US troops near the Jordan Syria border.

Russia, for its part, is still a contender facing the US on the issue of Gaza, in the Security Council at least. But the days when the Soviet Union was a lynchpin in the Arab-Israeli conflict — offering support to Arab countries and to the PLO — are over. Putin is now engaged in a balancing act, juggling Israel, his ties to which he has been very careful to nurture over the past two decades, with Iran, his newfound ally in the wake of the war with Ukraine.

China for its part has been reticent about condemning Israel outright for its war on Gaza, but has sided with Russia in the UN Security Council, thus showing its support for the Palestinians. At the same time, Peking’s Road and Belt initiative continues to circle the globe, and this includes Israel, with which China has vested interests in trade and technological development.

Egypt and Jordan both have peace treaties with Israel and, as the two countries most impacted with what is happening in Gaza and the West Bank, both are on the frontline of mediating the conflict with Hamas, Israel and the US.

The Gulf States, which prior to October 7 were on the brink of formally normalising ties with Israel, have now put a stop to the process. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have totally frozen their position on normalisation, making it contingent on a political resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict which would include the establishment of a Palestinian state. Notwithstanding the current incendiary situation in Gaza, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week headed to Saudi Arabia to try to negotiate for a resumption of stalled talks on normalisation with Israel.

Meanwhile, for the sake of public opinion in the Arab world and countries of the “global south”, in Africa, Asia and Latin America and increasingly also among young people in the US and in Europe, Gaza is becoming the face of dispossession pushed to the extreme.

The Palestinians are, in the words of veteran Palestinian figure Hanan Ashrawi, “the last occupied people on earth.” The United Nations, the multilateral institution which represents virtually all of the world and which strives and fails to achieve global consensus that will end the conflict in Gaza, stands helpless in the face of the geopolitical interests that rule its Security Council. Now the UN and its humanitarian agencies such as UNRWA, must also contend with accusations of anti-semitism directed at them by Israel.

Grace is brought to the UN through the personal courage and humanity of its Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who has remained unflinching in the face of Israel’s vitriol, calling a spade and declaring the collective punishment by Israel of the Palestinians “a moral outrage”.

Meanwhile the situation in Gaza remains intractable: a zero sum game stripped down to the most brutal weapons of death and destruction. The only catch is that one of the two sides involved in the current “war”, Israel, is a military fortress armed to the teeth by the world’s most powerful country to wage war on the overwhelmingly civilian population of Palestinians who are — unarmed, defenceless, ravaged by disease and now in a deliberately planned famine, and dealing with the death of 32,000 of its people — and counting.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 28 March, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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