Even with no immediate end in sight to the violent Israeli assault on Gaza, one dimension of the post-ceasefire landscape is already clear. Despite the global connectivity offered by social media and the public platitudes of political ‘leaders’ it is clear (and has been for a very long time) that the international diplomatic architecture is simply not fit for purpose.
The immediateness and intimacy the internet offers produces some extraordinary dissonances. The emotional response of communities across the world coming out in solidarity with people who are under life-threatening pressures on the other side of the world seems to stand in stark contrast to the inertia that grips the higher echelons of power. Similarly, some conflicts appear to have a capacity to attract both rolling news coverage and an outpouring of empathy while others drift off the agenda, like Syria, Iraq and Libya, or just don’t make the headlines (particularly in sub-Saharan Africa).
Yesterday, the UN’s Human Rights Council voted on a motion on “Ensuring respect for international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem“. When the 47 members voted on the resolution, 29 voted in favour, 17 abstained and one voted no (the USA). The Republic of Ireland and UK both abstained in line with an apparent EU instruction to abstain from voting on the issue. The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade published the EU’s explanatory note along with a defense of its position in abstaining. The Irish statement is an effective endorsement of the resolution making its abstention on the vote appear as tantamount to a concession of foreign policy sovereignty to the EU.
Ireland fully accepts that the Government of Israel has the right to defend its people, but this right does not negate the rights of others. Any use of military force in self defence must be in accordance with international humanitarian law, and in particular must be both discriminate and proportionate. In view of the casualty figures, we do not believe that this has been the case.
What is more, the EU explanatory note cannot be reconciled to the resolution itself. In it, the EU states that:
The draft resolution also fails to condemn explicitly the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israeli civilian areas as well as to recognize Israel´s legitimate right to defend itself. For this reason the EU cannot support this resolution and EU Member States who are members of this Council will abstain.
This is flatly contradicted by section 3 of the resolution, as passed:
3. Condemns all violence against civilians wherever it occurs, including the killing of two Israeli civilians as a result of rocket fire, and urges all parties concerned to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law;
The resolution itself represents an essay on the concept of Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself in the context of the repeatedly ignored UN resolutions and International Court of Justice rulings against Israel, its status as an occupying power in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and, its persistent failure to meet its obligations under international law. The paradox of the resolution text is that it simply re-affirms the inability of the current diplomatic architecture to provide any capacity to resolve conflicts. Other stories fall in and out of the news agenda relative to the intensity of violence, or the whims of either the mainstream media or political posturing by the likes of the USA. The long running Palestine/Israel conflict and its history of ignoring UN judgements against Israel, in particular, repeatedly exposes the cynical vacuousness behind much of that rhetoric.
Meanwhile, civilian casualties continue to mount in Gaza, in full view of the world via social media (and, to a much lesser extent, the mainstream media). While, locally, there is the usual belly-aching about engagement by the public with politics, it might be more appropriate to refer up to the macro level. If we want to look at the failure of politics, we need look no further than the international stage.