Gaza war damage 2023. Tasnim News Agency, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Juan Cole / Informed Comment

Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller on Tuesday characterized the United Nations Security Council resolution 2728 demanding an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza conflict as “non-binding,” a phrase also used by US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

The US was rebuked by China, according to Akmal Dawi at VOA: “‘Security Council resolutions are binding,’ Lin Jian, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said on Tuesday.”

Beijing is correct on the law, and the Biden administration is being disingenuous. If President Biden did not want a ceasefire resolution to pass, he should have vetoed it. By abstaining and letting the world community vote on the matter, Biden has elicited a binding decision, and his officials should stop dancing around it.

The law here is clear.

Article 25 of the UN Charter, to which the US, China and Israel are all signatories, says, “The Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter.”

Moreover, we could consider the actual language of the resolution, in which the UNSC

“Demands an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan respected by all parties leading to a lasting sustainable ceasefire, and also demands the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, as well as ensuring humanitarian access to address their medical and other humanitarian needs, and further demands that the parties comply with their obligations under international law in relation to all persons they detain”

You’d have to twist yourself into a pretzel to avoid concluding that the Security Council sees the ceasefire as binding, given the use of the verb “demand.” The UNSC isn’t suggesting. It isn’t hoping. It isn’t imploring. It is demanding.

Washington’s hypocrisy on this matter is legendary and stunning.

After the Gulf War of 1990-1991 the UN Security Council passed resolutions demanding the disarmament of Iraq. We now know that Iraq complied. But the US and other major powers refused to believe Baghdad’s assertions or even documents in this regard.

One of the grounds that George W. Bush put forward for invading Iraq was precisely its failure to abide by those UN Security Council resolutions. He actually represented the US not as acting unilaterally for narrow American purposes but as upholding the authority of the UNSC.

Robert McMahon at Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty wrote in 2002, “Expressing frustration and alarm, U.S. President George W. Bush says Iraq’s long defiance of United Nations disarmament resolutions has placed the UN’s credibility in question.”

So disobeying the UNSC according to Washington is so serious a matter that it could get you invaded and your government overthrown. I guess that’s not non-binding.

In 2007, the UNSC, disappointed in Iran’s non-compliance with demands for it to cease its civilian nuclear enrichment activities, imposed an embargo on weapons sales by Tehran. To enforce economic sanctions against Iran, the UNSC even allowed the boarding of vessels on the high seas suspected of carrying Iranian weapons.

The UNSC also allows ships carrying North Korean goods to be boarded. Ordinarily freedom of navigation on the high seas is an absolute right in international law. But the UNSC can do as it pleases. It has placed extensive economic sanctions on Pyongyang.

The only real sense in which UNSC Resolution 2728 is “non-binding” is not a legal one but a practical one. Since the US has a veto, if the UNSC tries to sanction Israel for its defiance, as it did Iraq, Iran and North Korea, the Biden administration would use its veto to protect the fascist government presently ruling Israel. But that action is not high diplomacy, just arbitrary and disgusting partisanship that makes a mockery of international law and of ethical principles.

Finally, consider the legislative history. What did the UNSC members intend? The UN News tells us.

Russian ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said, “‘Those who are providing cover for Israel still want to give it a free hand,’ he added, expressing hope that the wording contained in the resolution ‘will be used in the interests of peace rather than advancing the inhumane Israeli operation against the Palestinians’”.

He opposed the Biden administration’s granting of a free hand to Israel to thumb its nose at the resolution.

Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett of Guyana: “‘This demand [by the Council] comes at a significant time as Palestinians are observing the holy month of Ramadan,’ she said, noting continuing deaths in the enclave and a growing number of families left homeless.”

She called it a demand, and said that said that “after more than five months of a ‘war of utter terror and destruction’, a ceasefire is the difference between life and death for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and others.

Doesn’t sound like a mere polite suggestion to me.

China’s Zhang Jun said, “The current draft is unequivocal and correct in its direction, demanding an immediate ceasefire, while the previous one was evasive and ambiguous.”

I note the term “unequivocal.”

Hwang Joonkook of South Korea said, “The situation must be different before and after this resolution. This will only be possible when both Israel and Hamas respect and faithfully implement this resolution.”

So, not voluntary. Binding.

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Juan Cole

Juan Cole, a TomDispatch regular, is the Richard P. Mitchell collegiate professor of history at the University of Michigan. He is the author of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: A New Translation From the Persian and Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires. His latest book is Peace Movements in Islam. His award-winning blog is Informed Comment. He is also a non-resident Fellow of the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies in Doha and of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).

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