Joe Biden in Israel

Image: Alan Cabello


In the Gaza Strip, the future of the multilateral system is at stake

United States President Joe Biden arrived in Tel Aviv today for a difficult visit, with two perhaps irreconcilable objectives: to reaffirm the United States' unwavering support for Israel, following the Hamas attacks on October 7, and at the same time prevent Benjamin Netanyahu's government from launching an all-out offensive in Gaza, which would cause an unprecedented massacre of Palestinian civilians.

For days now, the inhabitants of Gaza have been dying by the thousands under Israeli bombing and are on the verge of exhaustion, with no more water, food and fuel for the hospital generators, which are full of injured people and bodies to bury. According to the network Al Jazeera, more than 2800 Palestinians have been killed and almost 11 injured in Israeli attacks as of last Monday, and this number is rising by the hour. The invasion and occupation of Gaza by Israel, to put an end to Hamas once and for all, as announced by Benjamin Netanyahu, would risk blowing up the entire Middle East, somehow involving both the immediate neighboring countries (Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan , Syria) as well as other regional powers (Iran and Saudi Arabia).

The unresolved problem of the Palestinian question erupted once again, 76 years after United Nations Resolution 181, which on November 29, 1947 determined the division of the former British mandate in Palestine into two states, giving rise to the creation of Israel, but never to an independent Palestinian state.

It is an issue that from the beginning has involved what is commonly called the “international community”. Over the decades it was left to rot and fall into oblivion. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, and the beginning of the United States' two decades of global unipolarism (roughly ended with the 2008 financial crisis and the 2009 Arab Spring), Israel and the United States Liberation Organization Palestine, then led by Yasser Arafat, signed the Oslo Accords (in 1993 and 2005).

The agreements recognized, for the first time, their mutual existence and established a framework for the provisional self-government of Palestinians in Gaza and parts of the West Bank. However, the agreements never led to peace or the creation of a true Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority, based in Ramallah and heir to the PLO, has very limited power in the West Bank and no power in Gaza. Paradoxically, by failing to comply with the Oslo Accords and therefore politically weakening the Palestinian Authority, subsequent Israeli governments ended up strengthening Hamas, a fundamentalist and authoritarian Islamic militia with close ties to Iran, Qatar and the Shiite Hezbollah militia in Lebanon , which has had full control over Gaza since 2006.

Under the complicit eyes of the West, Israel has continued the illegal expansion of its settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and has increasingly restricted the civil and political rights of not only Palestinians but also Israelis of Arab origin. A situation that the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, Michael Lynk, explicitly defined last year as a regime of apartheid comparable to that of South Africa until 1991.

According to Michael Lynk's report, Israel fits the definition of a “political regime that intentionally and clearly privileges the fundamental political, legal and social rights of one group over another, within the same geographic unit, on the basis of their racial identity , national or ethnic”. According to the UN report, “in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, there is a doubly discriminatory legal and political system, which privileges the 700 Jewish Israeli settlers who live in the 300 illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank”… “Others Two million Palestinians live in Gaza, regularly described as an 'open-air prison', without adequate access to electricity, water or healthcare, with an economy on the brink of collapse and without the ability to travel freely to the rest of Palestine or the outside world.”

A massacre carried out without images

In a matter of hours, on Saturday, October 7, the horrific images of the mutilated bodies of hundreds of civilians killed by Hamas militiamen in coordinated attacks on kibbutzim, settler settlements and a rave party in the desert went around the world. The images of Palestinian civilians killed in the Israeli bombings on Gaza (by air, land and sea) were circulated much less, mainly in the mainstream Western media.

And from Gaza, there are fewer videos being shared on social media: internet connections have been interrupted by Israel and there is no longer electricity to charge cell phones. Above all, as almost always in Europe and the United States, there was an automatic reflex of identification: the dead Israelis are like us, while the Palestinian dead are just numbers, indistinct faces; after all, victims of their own actions.

It's a film we've already seen. After withdrawing its troops from Gaza in September 2005, Israel bombed the city numerous times and invaded the region in three main military operations: Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009), Operation Pillar of Defense (2012) and Operation Protective Edge (2014). ). At least three thousand civilians, including 800 children, were killed in these three operations, and hundreds more in the numerous “surgical” strikes launched by Israel in response to rockets periodically fired by Hamas toward the nearest settler settlements.

Hamas' latest attack was of unprecedented scope and ferocity (a total of at least 1400 Israelis killed and 3400 injured), but it was certainly not unexpected: the dynamics of action and reaction have been repeated in essentially the same way for many years.

The now usual political impasse in the OUN was also confirmed. Successive emergency meetings of the Security Council – chaired this month by Brazil – were unable to approve a common position, due to reciprocal opposition between the three permanent members with veto rights from the West (United States, France and United Kingdom), aligned with Israel, and on the other hand, Russia and China, who unsuccessfully proposed, on Monday (16/10) a resolution for an immediate ceasefire, which would have paralyzed Israeli action.

On the humanitarian front, the UN is doing its best to distribute aid to the Palestinian population. This was under an Israeli ultimatum to abandon the northern part of Gaza – which would precede a massive military operation. At a press conference yesterday (17), in Geneva, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, clearly stated that “collective punishment in response to the horrific attacks (by Hamas) is not acceptable”. “We seriously fear for the number of civilians [dead] in the coming days. Military operations do not appear to be abating, the ongoing siege in Gaza is compromising the supply of water, food, medicine and other basic necessities. There are daily indications of violations of the laws of war, international law and human rights,” she added.

In practice, the United Nations can do little beyond condemning (symbolically) the abuses committed and organizing the distribution of humanitarian aid. The diplomatic impasse regarding the new crisis in Gaza resembles that of the war in Ukraine. The UN's inability to respond adequately to this war and the Palestinian issue is more an indicator than a cause of the crisis of multilateralism.

Russia took the war of aggression and territorial annexation back to the center of Europe and the foreign policy of the great powers. However, the same Western powers with permanent seats in the Security Council that today criticize precisely the Russian invasion and Hamas attacks, have resorted more than once in recent years (in Iraq, Kosovo, Libya...) to unilateral and illegal use of military force, in violation of the Charter of the United Nations. They never really exerted pressure on Israel to fulfill its commitments and respect international law. Everyone has always known that the only solution to the Palestinian issue is political, not military, and everyone preferred to turn a blind eye, due to calculations of opportunity or consensus.

The creation of the United Nations in 1945 was essentially an initiative by the United States to establish a mechanism for resolving international disputes through diplomatic and non-military means, in order to “save future generations from the scourge of war”, as the preamble of the Charter says. of the UN. The fundamental problem is that the institutional architecture of the UN and the multilateral system has remained largely unchanged for almost 80 years, and today's world bears little resemblance to the one that emerged after the Second World War.

The BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), for example, represent the most economically relevant bloc globally: according to the International Monetary Fund, in 2023 the BRICS are responsible for 32,1% of global GDP , compared to 29,9% of the G7, a complete reversal of the situation compared to 2000 (G7: 43,6% and BRICS 18,2%). What used to be emerging countries are today true economic and progressively political powers.

The United States and the European Union need to recognize the new reality and abandon the unilateralist arrogance of the last 30 years. The only way to save the multilateral system and find diplomatic and consensual solutions to the most serious problems (the climate crisis, migration crises, the increase in armed conflicts) is to seek consensus, not the unilateral use of force or veto power in the Security advice.

It is not just the lives of Palestinians and Israelis that are at stake. If Joe Biden can avoid an all-out war in Gaza, it will be great news for everyone. If he gives his approval (and weapons) to the offensive desired by Benjamin Netanyahu, it will be a bitter defeat for diplomacy and politics. And for the European Union, increasingly reduced to a docile ally of a superpower that does not accept the slow decline of its unipolar power.

*Giancarlo Summa journalist and political scientist, he is a researcher at the School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris and co-founder of the Latin American Institute for Multilateralism (ILAM). He was director of communications for the UN in Brazil, Mexico and West Africa.

Translation: Antonio Martins

Originally published on the website Other words.

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