‘What will you do?’

Having a UN resolution to back up arguments in favour of humanitarian pauses or a ceasefire is always better than having nothing. At the very least it provides a reference point that goes beyond the narrow confines of what individual countries believe should happen. 

The adoption last Wednesday by the United Nations Security Council of a resolution calling for “extended humanitarian pauses” in Gaza is a victory for Maltese diplomacy. 

Navigating the muddied waters of international politics is never an easy task, all the more so when dealing with the complexities of the Middle East. 

It is true that the resolution championed by Malta went for the lowest common denominator and focussed on humanitarian issues with a particular focus on children. The adopted text avoids the politically contentious stuff – it does not condemn the 7 October Hamas attacks on Israel and neither does it condemn Israeli aggression against civilians in Gaza. It does not call for a ceasefire. 

But in circumstances where four previous resolutions were defeated, achieving the lowest common denominator was always going to be a feat in itself. Malta’s efforts were praised by fellow members of the UNSC, notably the US and Japan, for drafting a text that achieved balance. 

The Maltese diplomatic effort at the UN, led by ambassador Vanessa Frazier, should be commended. It is arguably as significant as Guido de Marco’s presidency of the UN general assembly between 1990 and 1991 when he did not shy away from putting focus on the Palestinian issue by visiting refugee camps in the occupied territories, including the Gaza Strip. 

Today, Foreign Minister Ian Borg, unlikely as it may have seemed when he was given the foreign affairs portfolio after the last election, has ensured that Malta is putting its membership of the Security Council to good and effective use. He ended up in hot water locally over the driving test scandal at Transport Malta that happened on his watch when he was transport minister but in foreign relations he has distinguished himself. 

It was important to get the UNSC, the UN’s highest decision-making body, to formally pronounce itself on the ongoing Gaza conflict, more than 40 days after the 7 October attacks. Even if the resolution on its own will do little to materially change the situation on the ground for Palestinians in Gaza, it is nonetheless important from a moral and legal standpoint. 

Israel was prompt to pour cold water on the resolution, insisting it will not abide by it. This reaction did not come as a surprise because Israel has been ignoring UN Security Council resolutions – which are legally binding – for decades. And it has done so with impunity because it enjoys the US’s unconditional backing. 

Within this context, the question posed by the Palestinian ambassador to members of the Security Council shortly after the vote, was a haunting reminder of Israel’s behaviour over more than seven decades: “As we speak, Israel has rejected the resolution. What will you do?” He did not get an answer. 

The probability is that nothing will be done to enforce the resolution. The truth is that only the US has the clout to bring enough diplomatic pressure to bear on Israel to condition its behaviour. And while the EU has little clout in Israel, its position, if it can agree on one, can help condition how the US acts. 

Nonetheless, having a UN resolution to back up arguments in favour of humanitarian pauses or a ceasefire is always better than having nothing. At the very least it provides a reference point that goes beyond the narrow confines of what individual countries believe should happen. 

It is also significant that the US did not use its veto thus signalling a shift, even if only slightly, in its unconditional support for Israel’s actions in Gaza to date. 

In comments after the vote, Frazier was under no illusion at the difficulties that remain. She insisted the resolution was only a first step, describing it “a drop in the ocean” of what needs to be done. But she also said it offered a glimmer of hope. 

The scenes from Al Shifa Hospital of premature babies huddled on a bed because there is no electricity to operate incubators touched hearts and minds around the world. 

Israel cannot continue ignoring the growing voices condemning or expressing grave concern over its relentless military campaign in Gaza that is bringing untold misery to millions of ordinary Palestinians. 

This leader reiterates that what Hamas did on 7 October was atrocious and had nothing to do with the struggle for liberation. Hamas damaged the Palestinian cause through its despicable actions. No young person should expect to be massacred while attending a rave party. No elderly person in the quiet of their home should expect to be dragged by the hair at gunpoint and killed in cold blood. What Hamas did was plain evil and underpins their ideology that Israel has no right to exist. 

Israel has a right to defend itself and its military actions are justified insofar as they target Hamas militants and their control and command structures. Israel also has the duty to protect its citizens from the rockets launched by Hamas. 

But what we have been witnessing over the past 40 days is the wholesale destruction of Palestinian neighbourhoods, schools and hospitals. We have been witnessing the death of civilians most of who were buried alive beneath the rubble of their bombed houses. We have been witnessing an exercise in collective punishment whereby people have been denied food, water and medical supplies. 

We have witnessed doctors reverting to medieval ways of operating on patients as hospital supplies run out and electricity is disrupted because fuel has finished. We have witnessed a hospital becoming a theatre of war and aid workers employed by the UN and the Red Cross die as a result of Israeli bombardments. 

Israel’s military action has gone way beyond its legitimate remit and has been hurting ordinary civilians in a disproportionate way, especially children. This madness must stop. 

At the same time, Hamas must release all the hostages it is holding and desist from launching more rockets into Israel in a show of childish bravado at a time when ordinary Palestinians are being made to pay the price in blood for their attacks. Indeed, Hamas must lay down its arms. 

But the real solution to the perennial conflict in the Middle East is a negotiated political settlement that sees Palestinians getting their own viable and independent state in the West Bank and Gaza with security guarantees for Israel. 

Unfortunately, the conditions today may not be ripe for a political dialogue to take place but at the very basic it is important that the fighting stops so that crucial humanitarian aid is allowed to reach Gaza’s long-suffering residents, especially children.