Faltering UN Efforts in Protecting Palestinian Lives

Faltering UN Efforts in Protecting Palestinian Lives
Photo by Dave Mendes/via Unsplash


Naira ElTonsy

Middle East and Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

The United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (“the UNRWA”) persistently warned that 2.3 million Palestanians residing in the Gaza strip, which has been subjected to ongoing Israeli airstrikes and a blockade for more than 32 consecutive days, as of the 7th of November, are on the brink of a looming humanitarian crisis. [1]

On Friday the 3rd of November, the United Nations General Assembly (“the UNGA”) adopted a non-binding Jordanian resolution, urging an immediate, lasting, and continuous humanitarian ceasefire between Israeli forces and Hamas in Gaza. [2] The resolution also calls for the consistent and impeded delivery of essential supplies and services to civilians confined in the enclave, coming in light of reports indicating an escalation in Israel’s ground operations and an intensified bombing campaign. [3] After the consecutive failing of the UN Security Council to reach consensus on any action, this is marked as the first formal response by the UN on the Palestinian-Israeli issue with 120 votes in favour, 14 against, and 45 abstentions. [4] 

The Jordanian resolution spoke for the UN’s 22-nation Arab group, urging the 193 member states to take action, to not replicate the failure of the 15 powerful member states in the Security Council. [5] However, unlike resolutions passed by the Security Council which are legally binding, this is not the case for UNGA resolutions, which most of the time serve as a ‘barometer of world opinion’. [6]

While the UNGA meeting was set to resume last Tuesday, the UN Security Council met in an emergency session, where they have again failed for the fifth time to reach any consensus. [7] During this meeting, Riyad Mansour, the permanent observer of the state of Palestine, urged the international community for a ceasefire, and told the ambassadors that “Gaza is now hell on Earth”. [8] Referring to the UNGA, he stated that  “representing the countries of the world, adopted a resolution grounded in humanity, morality, legality and the rejection of double standards” and on top of that he criticised the Security Council as the only important body that has not acted yet. [9] 

As the UNGA emergency session came to an end, numerous member states decried Israel’s bombings in Gaza, calling for a humanitarian ceasefire to facilitate aid delivery to Palestinians in need. Meanwhile, others expressed disappointment that the 193-member body couldn’t denounce Hamas’ terrorist attacks on Israel and echoed demand for the release of hostages. [10] The representative of the Arab League noted that certain permanent Security Council member states persistently obstruct any attempt to simply declare a ceasefire in Gaza, and clearly violate international law by hindering the delivery of aid to Palestinian civilians. [11] He renders it a pursuit of self-interest that not only threatens the Palestinian people, but the entire international community, as double standards are blatantly and persistently applied to Ukraine and Palestine. [12] 

The chief question is: Why is the UN unable to agree to a ceasefire in Gaza? It comes to light more and more everyday that the UN, in idea and in action, is a flawed institution. Recent demands for a ceasefire in Israel’s war on Gaza highlights the deficiencies in today’s ‘rules-based international order’. [13] Even though the UNGA has successfully passed the resolution, we are still witnessing a failure of action, as the UN’s system is characterised by great power competition and geopolitical interests. [14] As long as the permanent members of the Security Council remain as they are, we will continue to witness a war of words between the US, and its rivals China and Russia. [15] Global catastrophes expose the UN’s shortcoming in preventing human rights violations - a wake-up call for change.

Sources and Further Reading

[1] Ahramonline, (2023, October 27), ‘Israel expands ground operation in Gaza as ceasefire talks stall - Day 21 as it happened’ <Israel expands ground operation in Gaza as ceasefire talks stall - Day 21 as it happened> accessed 4 November 2023.

[2] UN News, (2023, October 26), ‘UN General Assembly adopts Gaza resolution calling for immediate and sustained ‘humanitarian truce’’ <UN General Assembly adopts Gaza resolution calling for immediate and sustained ‘humanitarian truce’ | UN News> accessed 4 November. 2023.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ahramonline, (2023, October 27), ‘UN General Assembly set to vote on nonbinding resolution calling for a ‘humanitarian truce’ in Gaza’, <https://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/58/1262/511104/War-on-Gaza/War-on-Gaza/UN-General-Assembly-set-to-vote-on-nonbinding-reso.aspx> accessed 4 November 2023.

[6] Ibid.

[7] UN News, (2023, October 30), ‘UN Security Council meet on Israel-Palestine crisis; nowhere safe in Gaza’ <UN Security Council meets on Israel-Palestine crisis; nowhere safe in Gaza | UN News> accessed 4 November 2023. 

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid. 

[10] United Nations, (2023, November 2), ‘As General Assembly concludes emergency session, delegates underscore urgent need for ceasefire, humanitarian aid, immediate release of Hamas-held hostages’ <As General Assembly Concludes Emergency Session, Delegates Underscore Urgent Need for Ceasefire, Humanitarian Aid, Immediate Release of Hamas-Held Hostages | UN Press> accessed 4 November 2023.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid. 

[13] Alexander Langlois, The NewArab, (2023, November 1), ‘Why can’t the United Nations agree to a ceasefire in Gaza?’ <Why can't the United Nations agree to a ceasefire in Gaza?> accessed 4 November 2023. 

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.