Opinion: How the U.N. Gaza resolution could lead to a lasting cease-fire

After 171 days of a relentless Israeli assault on Gaza, the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, with the United States abstaining. It’s a breakthrough that must be built upon.

The resolution calls for an immediate cease-fire that should lead to a “lasting sustainable” cease-fire. But it weakens these adjectives by limiting the cease-fire to the remainder of the holy month of Ramadan, just two more weeks at most. Although U.N. officials consider their resolutions to be international law and thus binding, there is no direct means of enforcing these measures. Nonetheless, the resolution can be a key building block for serious negotiations.

Hamas, although not a state and therefore not under the power of the U.N., quickly welcomed the decision. Israel, on the other hand, rejected the Security Council’s decision and canceled a trip to Washington by officials to work out military plans to avoid further civilian casualties in Gaza.

Still, Hamas’ reaction is a hopeful sign. Earlier negotiations in Doha, Qatar’s capital, included a U.S.-sponsored offer for a six-week humanitarian cease-fire and hostage release and exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. The U.S. deal — which Israel had accepted — was rejected by Hamas primarily because it lacked any reference to a permanent cease-fire. The “lasting sustainable” language of the U.N. resolution seems to have provided a tactical solution. Hamas has also said it won’t release more hostages until Israel agrees to a permanent cease-fire.

The hope then is that the U.N. demand for a cease-fire can be bolstered into longer-term solutions. In fact, following the adoption of the Security Council resolution, the Palestinian representative at the U.N., Riyad Mansour, said that his mission would now start working on a follow-up resolution to ensure that Rafah, the southern Gazan city where 1.4 million displaced Palestinians have fled, is not invaded and to prevent a further humanitarian crisis.

All efforts should be focused on the negotiations going on in Doha, with a clear goal of stopping the ground offensive of Rafah, and getting the U.S.-backed limited cease-fire agreement ratified by both sides immediately, so that both Israel and Hamas can start exchanging individuals held against their will. This could be part of a domino effect that will lead to a permanent cease-fire.

The Israeli reaction is regrettable although understandable because of the extremist views its government and leadership have been advocating. It appears that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy is to prolong the war as long as possible, hoping for some semblance of victory. Yet even his American allies, who support Israel’s military goals, have pushed back against Netanyahu’s plans for further military action in Gaza.

Palestinian nationalism and Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation will not be defeated by military might. Palestinians will not surrender or leave their land.

Monday’s U.N. cease-fire resolution might lack teeth, but there is nothing barring members of the Security Council from submitting a follow-up resolution demanding that any side failing to comply with this resolution would become subject to sanctions as outlined in Chapter VII of the U.N. charter.

It is not clear whether Washington or any other permanent member of the Security Council would allow such a follow-up resolution to be adopted. But Israel’s defiance in the face of the world’s demand for a negotiated solution and an end to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza could make it vulnerable to such sanctions.

Israel’s action — or inaction now — will be closely watched and there will be consequences if it continues in its refusal to cease its fire against the Palestinians of Gaza.

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