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Bepi Pezzulli
International counsel & foreign policy adviser

US shift in Israel-Hamas conflict

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield votes abstain on a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, during a United Nations Security Council meeting at UN headquarters in New York on March 25, 2024. (Angela Weiss / AFP)

UN Security Council Resolution 2728 signifies a pivotal shift in global politics, considerably altering the longstanding dynamics surrounding the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Notably, it marks the first time since October 7 that the UN Security Council has reached consensus on a course of action; and, crucially, it was adopted with the United States abstaining. Despite previous US, Chinese and Russian vetoes, the UN Security Council has successfully broken the deadlock, albeit at the cost of entangling Israel in a geopolitical chess game, which exposes conflicting strategic interests between major powers. The resolution calls for an “immediate ceasefire during Ramadan, respected by all parties, leading to a durable and sustainable solution,” including “the release of all hostages and ensuring humanitarian access to address medical needs.” Strikingly, it neither explicitly mentions Hamas nor advocates for the release of Israeli hostages still held in the Strip.

Israel has expressed discontent over the lack of a US veto, viewing it as a setback by the Biden administration. “This is a clear retreat from the consistent position of the US in the Security Council since the beginning of this war,” a statement from the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office reads, adding that “this withdrawal hurts both the war effort and the effort to release the abductees.”

Immediately after the resolution had passed, US Department of State’s Spokesperson Matthew A. Miller issued a press briefing stating that “the resolution today is a non-binding resolution,” thus opening yet another bone of contention.

While resolutions of the UN General Assembly hold political and symbolic weight, those adopted by the UN Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter are legally binding. The same, however, cannot be automatically said for resolutions adopted under Chapter VI,  for which compliance is not guaranteed, as clarified by Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz’s statement on social media X, formerly Twitter, that Israel will not cease fire, and “will continue to act with full force until all hostages are returned and Hamas is decisively defeated in Gaza.”

In an analysis for the United States Institute for Peace, Robert Barron sees Israel’s stance as correct and predictable. UN Security Council resolutions under Chapter VI, contends Barron, are to be taken as “weathervanes,” indicating shifts in political currents. The broad support for Resolution 2728 and the US abstention suggest mounting pressure to at least achieve a temporary halt in the conflict, a state of affairs already recognized by Israel.

In response to the US allowing the resolution to pass, Israel has canceled a planned delegation visit to Washington, prompting US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communication John F. Kirby to say that the White House is “very disappointed” and “kind of perplexed” by the cancellation of the Israeli mission to the US. On the contrary, Hamas welcomed the resolution, reiterating the call for “a permanent ceasefire leading to the withdrawal of all Zionist forces from the Gaza Strip and the return of the displaced.” The Palestinian terrorist group also stated its willingness “to engage in an immediate process leading to the release of prisoners from both sides.”

Concerns have been raised about the implications of the resolution on ongoing operations. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, on an official visit to the US for meetings with US National Security Adviser Jacob J. Sullivan and US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken for talks on the final military offensive in Rafah, said in a video statement that Israel “does not have the moral right to stop the war in Gaza while there are still hostages held there. The lack of a decisive victory in Gaza could bring us closer to a war in the North,” referring to the potential empowering of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Gallant’s concerns are echoed by Giovanni Giacalone, a security and terrorism analyst and lecturer at ITSTIME and ITCT, “calling for a ceasefire implies allowing Hamas to claim victory and expecting Israel to lose the war, which Jerusalem cannot and should not permit. If the same international pressures exerted on Israel were applied to Hamas, we might have already seen some progress, particularly in terms of hostage release.” Furthermore, Giacalone explains, “attempting to enforce a ceasefire means obstructing Israel from concluding its military campaign against a genocidal terrorist organization, strategically advancing from northern Gaza towards Rafah, with Egypt sealing the border. This group, which massacres Israelis and exploits Gazawites as pawns, represents a fundamental threat. It’s doubtful that the Biden Administration is oblivious to these strategic realities.”

Certainly, the focal point seems to be the forthcoming presidential race. Faced with a very uncertain reelection in November, US President Joseph R. Biden is, more than ever, leveraging foreign policy for domestic political gains. In a comment for L’Informale, Niram Ferretti, a Middle East analyst, contends that “the Biden administration faces a delicate balancing act between the need to appease the left wing of the Democratic Party and the necessity to avoid extreme decisions.” Moreover, Ferretti speculates, the US President is undertaking a high-stakes maneuver, akin to an all-in bet, which carries the risk of backfiring: “Halting support to Israel could satisfy extremists within the Democratic Party, but it risks providing a potent weapon for Republicans and presidential candidate Donald J. Trump, without gaining broader public support from a wider electorate still overwhelmingly sympathetic with the reasons of Israel.”

The US decision comes amidst growing tension with Israel. Ten days prior to the abstention on the crucial vote, in a speech on the Senate floor, US Senate Majority Leader Charles E. (“Chuck”) Schumer criticized Israel’s governing coalition, sparking controversy. President Biden’s acknowledgment of Schumer’s speech contrasted with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strong condemnation. Subsequent leaked State Department memos accusing Israel of harming its international reputation, and US Vice President Kamala D. Harris’s warning on potential “consequences,” should Israel go forward with a planned final military operation in Rafah, set the stage for the US abstention on Resolution 2728.

The collision between the United States and Israel, for which there have been many harbingers, is now a fact, and yesterday’s resolution certifies it, but, as Ferretti bluntly puts it, “we are not yet at the climax; that will come when the Israeli Defense Forces finally enter Rafah to close the game with Hamas.”

About the Author
Giuseppe Levi Pezzulli ("Bepi") is a Solicitor specialised in International financial law and a foreign policy scholar. His research interest is economic statecraft. In 2018, he published "An alternative view of Brexit" (Milano Finanza Books), which investigates the economic and geopolitical implications of Brexit. In 2023, "Brave bucks" (Armando Publishing House), which highlights the role of private capital in the industrial policy mix. Formerly an Editor-in-Chief of La Voce Repubblicana; is a columnist for the Italian daily financial newspaper Milano Finanza; a pundit for the financial TV channel CNBC; and a Middle East analyst for Longitude magazine. He received degrees at Luiss Guido Carli in Rome (LLB), New York University (LLM), and Columbia University (JD).
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