On Tuesday, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of a non-binding resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. About three-quarters of the 193 UN member states supported the resolution in a landslide 153-10 vote, with 23 nations abstaining.
The lopsided result underscored the increasing isolation of Israel and the United States on the world stage when it comes to the Gaza conflict. It also highlighted the global desire for urgent action to halt the mounting humanitarian crisis and civilian casualties in the densely populated Palestinian territory.
Thunderous applause erupted in the hall following the announcement of the vote tally. How many more thousands of lives must be lost before we do something?” asked General Assembly President Denis Francis of Trinidad and Tobago in remarks preceding the vote. “No more time is left. The carnage must stop.”
The ceasefire resolution was introduced by the Arab Group and the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation. It called for an “immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire” in Gaza, emphasizing that civilians on both sides must be protected under international law. It also urged Israel and Hamas to fully adhere to international humanitarian law and norms of human rights.
Additionally, the resolution demanded immediate humanitarian access to Gaza and the release of hostages held by Hamas following its devastating October 7 terrorist attacks in Israel. However, it notably stopped short of explicitly condemning Hamas for those attacks.
Amendments proposed by the US and Austria to incorporate Hamas condemnation failed to secure the required two-thirds backing. Opponents like Pakistan argued that mentioning Hamas but not Israeli actions in Gaza would upset the resolution’s balance.
Despite its non-binding nature, the lopsided vote carries substantial political and moral weight. It spotlights the near-universal desire among UN member states for urgent moves to ease civilian suffering in Gaza. The densely populated strip of land barely twice the size of Washington DC has seen 15,000 deaths and the displacement of over 85% of its 2.2 million people. Vital infrastructure lies in ruins while hunger, disease and lawlessness are rampant amid the chaos of war.
Israel Lambasts Vote, Citing Relevance Concerns
Predictably, Israeli leaders lambasted the General Assembly vote as irrelevant and accused the UN of bias. Ambassador Gilad Erdan claimed the resolution could “tie Israel’s hands and continue Hamas’ reign of terror” by preventing further military action against the radical Islamist group that rules Gaza.
The United States was one of only ten countries to vote against the ceasefire call, having previously vetoed a similar resolution at the more powerful UN Security Council. Joining them in the “No” column were Israel’s staunch allies such as Micronesia, Guatemala and the Czech Republic.
Key US allies like Britain, France and Germany were among the abstentions, unwilling to directly defy Washington’s stance. Their calculus is likely aimed at maintaining cooperation with the US on other global hotspots like Ukraine and Taiwan where American leadership remains vital.
I think most UN member states have lost patience with the US stance on the war, even if many were initially repulsed by Hamas’ atrocities,” said UN expert Richard Gowan of the International Crisis Group. He pointed out that early in the fighting, Arab nations were keen to engage Washington in the hopes of a joint humanitarian push in Gaza.
“Now, by contrast, the Arab group has been on a campaign to highlight how few countries back the US in opposing a ceasefire,” Gowan noted.
Rift Opens Between Biden and Netanyahu Over Gaza’s Future
The tensions underlying the Biden administration’s growing isolation were highlighted just hours before the UN vote. President Joe Biden warned Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu that “indiscriminate bombing” was eroding international support for Israel’s operations in Gaza.
Biden’s admonition came shortly after Netanyahu publicly rejected a US-backed blueprint for the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to spearhead Gaza’s reconstruction after the war. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas heads the PA from his base in the occupied West Bank. The Islamist Hamas movement violently seized control of Gaza from Abbas back in 2007.
Netanyahu’s stance aligns with his government’s long-standing opposition to empowering Hamas’ bitter rival Abbas in any way in Gaza. But it deals a blow to Washington’s plan to initiate intra-Palestinian reconciliation as part of eventual Israel-Hamas ceasefire talks.
Biden has pledged continuity in robust US military, economic and political support for its key Middle Eastern ally ever since the October 7 Hamas terrorist outrages that killed over 1200 Israelis. But the growing split suggests the White House is increasingly disturbed by the humanitarian nightmares and regional instability produced by prolonged fighting.
With major US weapons stockpile replenishments allowing Israel’s military to continue high-intensity Gaza operations for months more, Biden appears worried about the side-effects. These likely include surging anti-US sentiment in Arab states, strengthened Iran influence, and a distracting foreign policy headache.
Domestic political compulsions also play a role. Faced with a Republican-controlled House, the coming 2024 reelection fight likely makes Biden unwilling to totally break with US public sympathy for Israel after the Hamas attacks.
Broader Geopolitical Concerns Shape UN Abstentions
The 23 abstaining nations at the General Assembly vote highlight the geopolitical calculations also molding responses. Britain, Hungary and Germany are vital NATO allies that continue backing Ukraine against Russia. Maintaining good ties with Washington remains their priority.
Eastern European nations like the Czech Republic and Poland also have historical reasons to empathize with Israeli security dilemmas stemming from terrorism and hostile neighbors.
China, India and Pakistan are embroiled in their own tensions as nuclear-armed regional rivals. They remain leery of supporting sweeping condemnations or sanctions that could constrain their own military options regarding long-running territorial and separatist disputes.
Middle Eastern nations allied to the US like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Jordan also face dilemmas. Their political and economic ties to Washington collide with domestic public sympathy for suffering Palestinians. Moreover, Islamist militants threaten their own rule at home.
These considerations help explain their choice of abstention rather than overtly backing either warring side at the UN.
“There are no easy answers when so much blood has already been spilled, history remains bitterly contested, and cycles of violence proving difficult to break,” mused veteran Egyptian diplomat Amr Moussa, who previously headed the Arab League.
What Comes Next? Talks Inevitable but Truce Still Distant
Despite the General Assembly’s emphatic call, an actual Israel-Hamas ceasefire still appears distant given the lack of substantive peace negotiations so far. US efforts to initiate dialogue through Egyptian mediation have yet to make headway in the polarized climate of anger and fear.
With over 900,000 Israelis and Palestinians displaced by four months of devastating warfare, domestic political pressures for victory rather than compromise are immense on both sides.
Yet, the sheer horror and instability generated by continued fighting is also unsustainable in the longer run. So talks remain inevitable, especially if Biden ramps up pressure on Netanyahu.
Whether the ending proves happy or tragic hangs in the uneasy balance as the bombs continue falling. But the UN vote shows the world desperately longs for a ceasefire dawn over the bloodied land holy to three great faiths.