Gaza – What is the end game?

Nov 18, 2023
Blue UN helmets waiting for their deployment.

In recent weeks some frightening possibilities have come to the world’s attention. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has noted plans, by some, for high density Jewish cities in the Gaza Strip. Such plans call for total destruction and mass expulsion in Gaza.

Other plans include reducing the Gaza Strip to its southern part only, to which the Palestinian population will be deported. Yet other plans call for the expulsion of all Gaza Strip residents to Egypt, accompanied by a generous compensation package given to Egypt to obtain that country’s consent.

Similar settler dreams are advanced for the West Bank, along with the ultimate dream of the destruction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the building of the Third Temple.

These are not pipe dreams. Current activity by both settlers and the Israel Defence Force (IDF), lend credence to the very real possibility of effect being given to them. Palestinian communities are vanishing in the South Hebron Hills and the Jordan Valley. Settlers are clearly attempting to transfer Palestinians from Area C to Area A in the West Bank.

A month ago, I raised the question of potential resolution of the then crisis in Gaza: Australia must support Turkey’s mediation offer to prevent Palestinian massacreOctober 15 . President Erdogan had advanced that the “ultimate solution to the conflict will only be possible with the establishment of an independent Palestine state with the 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital”. Based on this proposal I posed questions to PM Albanese and FM Wong, addressing what Australia’s position might be.

Then on 9 November P&I published a further piece – “’Enduring Peace’: Three questions for the Australian Foreign Minister on Gaza”. The questions addressed Ms. Wong’s Opinion piece published a day or two before in which she asserted: “Ultimately, a just and enduring peace requires a two-state solution. An Israeli state alongside a Palestinian state. Israelis and Palestinians living securely and prosperously within internationally recognised borders”.

The questions sought Australia’s position if Israel refused to contemplate a two state solution, or refused to accept the borders stipulated by Security Council Resolution 242, i.e. the 1967 Green Line. Needless to say, no answers have come forward from our government. Might I be permitted to consider the issues raised.

Accepting that negotiation between the parties cannot work, given the 75 year history of same, and given the power imbalance between the parties, we can really only look to the United Nations (UN) to take action.

To date, after five weeks, the UN appears paralysed, totally failing to address both what is happening in Gaza, and the upsurge in ethnic cleansing by Israeli settlers in the West Bank. This might be expected. It is consistent with the UN failure to bring an end to the 56-year old occupation in all that time.

The Security Council has the power to take action, including compulsive action, to address such an impasse. The difficulty with the Security Council, however, is of course the US veto. The history of the exercise of such veto suggests that only the US would be a naysayer, protecting its ally, Israel.

The closest the Security Council ever came was in December 2016 during the last days of the Obama administration when the Security Council passed a resolution, courtesy of the US abstaining, as opposed to vetoing, which resolution affirmed that Israel’s settlements in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, “had no legal validity, constituting a flagrant violation under international law”. The resolution was ignored by Israel, and despite the fact that under the UN Charter the Security Council can authorise an international force, this has not happened, no doubt the result of Trump’s election, and Biden’s subservience to Israel, which would preclude any punitive resolution that would take forceful action against Israel.

Is there another option? There might be – UN General Assembly Resolution 377 – the “Uniting for Peace” resolution.

This resolution states that in any cases where the Security Council, because of a lack of unanimity among its five permanent members, fails to act as required to maintain international security and peace, the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately, and may issue appropriate recommendations to UN members for collective measures, including the use of armed force when necessary, in order to maintain or restore international security and peace. It was adopted on 3 November 1950. The resolution was initiated by the US as a means of circumventing further Soviet vetoes during the course of the Korean War.

Resolution 377 has only been resorted to on limited occasions. It was invoked in the Security Council in 1956 as a result of the Suez Crisis consequent upon Security Council vetoes by France and the UK. It was invoked again in the Security Council in 1982 in respect of Israel’s actions in Lebanon and following a US veto.

In the General Assembly it has sought to be invoked, relevantly, in 1967, over Israel’s actions in Jerusalem; in 1980, consequent upon a US veto in an Emergency Special Session, in respect of Israel’s failure to withdraw from the Occupied Territories; and in 1997, again consequent upon a US veto in an Emergency Special Session which sought an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice concerning Palestine.

So what might a Resolution 377 today look like? It could note Security Council Resolution 242 and note that it has not been implemented. It could order all member states to recognise the State of Palestine on the ’67 borders – approximately three quarters of member states already have done so, but not Australia.

It could request Israel to comply, and in the event that it fails to do so it could consider appropriate sanctions which might lead to the exclusion of Israel from all international diplomatic and/or economic activity. This, then, is a possible mechanism to advance a resolution.

Finally, is any other action possible? One country appears to believe that there is. Sinn Fein has put forward a motion in Ireland’s Dail for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to Ireland. The motion also calls for the Government to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court for an investigation on whether Israel has committed war crimes in Gaza. The motion also calls upon Ireland to lobby for the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement on the grounds that the human rights clause in the Agreement has been breached. Well done Ireland!

Come on Australia! We can match that. We can start by recognising the State of Palestine on the ’67 borders, before moving on to a motion in the General Assembly, calling upon Israel to end the occupation with sanctions foreshadowed if it failed to do so.

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