Analysis: How binding are token UN Security Council resolutions? - M5 Dergi
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Analysis: How binding are token UN Security Council resolutions?

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There is potentially a big political cost to pay, in terms of international reputation, for not abiding by UN texts and international humanitarian law, yet Israel seems to be ready to pay that cost.

For the first time since last Oct. 7, on March 25 the UN Security Council was able to adopt a resolution that “demands an immediate ceasefire” in the Gaza Strip. The text also “demands the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages,” as well as “ensuring humanitarian access” to address their humanitarian needs. The text (Resolution 2728) had been proposed by the 10 elected members of the council and was adopted with 14 members voting in favor while the United States abstained (saying it abstained because the text did not condemn the attacks of last Oct. 7).

Shift in US policy

This adoption is in itself remarkable as it breaks with a long-term US policy of unshakeable support to Israel at the Security Council, which has practically led the US to systematically veto Security Council texts that would be unfavorable to their ally. And indeed this is what happened over the last six months, with the US vetoing several texts dealing with the Gaza Strip. A few days before the adoption of Resolution 2728, though, it was a text proposed by the US that was vetoed in the council, this time by China and Russia.

This said, what is interesting here is the distance that US President Joe Biden’s administration has incrementally taken with the Israeli government and its operation in Gaza, most notably urging it to a cease-fire and not launching an assault on the city of Rafah in the southern part of the Palestinian territory. Such distance had not yet reached US voting policy at the Security Council. It now has and may create a precedent, possibly invoked by the US as leverage in its future talks with Israel. How likely is this then going to influence the Israelis, both in terms of factoring in the US views on how to proceed in Gaza and in terms of simply implementing Resolution 2728?

On the latter issue, whether the UN text will have an effect on the conduct of the operation in Gaza by Israel remains to be seen. Actually it has in no way influenced the Israeli modus operandi in the days following its adoption, and few observers, if any, are optimistic on such a course. As a matter of fact, Israel has over time largely resisted abiding by Security Council resolutions on Palestine.

Do Security Council resolutions have sanctioning power?

According to Article 25 of the UN Charter, members of the United Nations “agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter,” which suggests that all resolutions adopted by the Security Council are legally binding. Of course, cases where states have not implemented Security Council resolutions are many, and war situations have often led to such bypassing or even blatant violations. In fact, there is even a correlation between the nature of the war a given state is waging and the propensity of abiding by international law or Security Council resolutions: The more the war is perceived as strategic or existential, the less the country waging it is likely to accept the constraints of Security Council resolutions. And this is how Israel is going to see it. Of course, there is potentially a big political cost to pay, in terms of international reputation for example, for not abiding by UN texts and international humanitarian law, yet Israel seems to be ready to pay that cost.

Within the council then, new resolutions could theoretically be adopted to sanction a country that would have recurrently refused the implementation of UN texts. But this would require the five permanent members (including the US) to agree on those sanctions, which is practically not feasible in the current situation. Similarly, one might be tempted to point to the composition of the Security Council as much as to the privileges of its permanent members, in particular the veto power. But the system is locked from the inside, in the sense that no reform of the Security Council is possible short of the consent of Security Council permanent members.

Does this mean that Resolution 2728 will not play any role? In the short run, probably not. But it has to be read in the longer haul, as one piece of a bigger game that also includes various statements of the International Court of Justice (on March 29 the court ordered Israel to allow “unimpeded access of food aid into Gaza”) and that helps isolate Israel while expressing what is legally and politically acceptable in a war situation and what is not.

Source: AA

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