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Ex-U.N. Official Craig Mokhiber: Israel Must Be Held Accountable for Violating Ceasefire Resolution



We speak with former top U.N. human rights official Craig Mokhiber after the Security Council voted Monday on a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the release of all remaining hostages. The United States abstained from the vote, allowing it to pass after nearly six months of obstructing similar efforts at the Security Council. Mokhiber, who resigned in October over the U.N.'s failure to address rights violations in Israel-Palestine, says “Israel has the world record” for violating U.N. resolutions and is certain to violate this ceasefire resolution, as well, even though it expressed “the very broad consensus across the global community against Israel's onslaught on Gaza.” Israel continued bombing Gaza after Monday’s vote, and top Israeli leaders have vowed to continue the war that has killed over 32,000 Palestinians so far. “What this genocide has done is it has revealed the weaknesses, the political compromises, the moral failings of the United Nations and other international institutions,” says Mokhiber, who adds that continued pressure from civil society is needed to end the bloodshed.


Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.


Israel is continuing to attack Gaza despite a vote Monday by the United Nations Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire during the remaining two weeks of Ramadan and calling for the release of hostages in Gaza. Fourteen of the 15 nations on the U.N. Security Council voted in support of the resolution, which was drafted by the nonpermanent members of the council. The United States abstained, ignoring a request by Israel to veto the ceasefire resolution. The U.S. had previously vetoed three other ceasefire resolutions.


Israel denounced the U.N. vote, as well as the U.S. decision to abstain. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by canceling a visit to Washington, D.C., by a high-level delegation this week to discuss Israel’s plans to attack Rafah.


At the United Nations, Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour praised the ceasefire resolution.

RIYAD MANSOUR: This must be a turning point. This must lead to saving lives on the ground. This must signal the end of this assault of atrocities against our people. A nation is being murdered. A nation is being dispossessed. A nation is being displaced — for decades now, but never at this scale since the Nakba.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel has vowed to ignore the resolution. In a post on social media, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said, quote, “The State of Israel will not cease firing. We will destroy Hamas and continue fighting until the very last hostage has come home,” he said.


Meanwhile, the U.S. is at odds with the U.N. over whether the resolution is binding or not. Deputy U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq said U.N. Security Council resolutions are, quote, “as binding as international law.” But on Monday, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., described the resolution as nonbinding.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We appreciated the willingness of members of this council to take some of our edits and improve on this resolution. Still certain key edits were ignored, including our request to add a condemnation of Hamas. And we did not agree with everything in the resolution. For that reason, we were, unfortunately, not able to vote yes. However, as I’ve said before, we fully support some of the critical objectives in this nonbinding resolution. And we believe it was important for the council to speak out and make clear that our ceasefire must — any ceasefire must come with the release of all hostages. Indeed, as I’ve said before, the only path to a durable end to this conflict is the release of all hostages.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Craig Mokhiber, international human rights lawyer who formerly served as the director of the New York office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, where he worked for more than three decades as a human rights official. He resigned in October over the U.N.'s failure to adequately address large-scale atrocities in Palestine and in protest of Israel's assault on Gaza.


Craig Mokhiber, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you explain the significance of this U.N. Security Council resolution, the U.S. abstaining, and whether or not this is binding?


CRAIG MOKHIBER: Well, thank you, Amy and Juan. Nice to be with you again.


It is significant — you’ve picked the right adjective there — because this was a draft that was put forward by the nonpermanent members, the elected members of the Security Council, the so-called E10. And these 10 members include representatives from around the world, including some key allies of the United States, which created, I think, a degree of political pressure that added to hopes that the resolution would not be vetoed in this case.


I have to say that it follows just a few days after the council rejected a rather cynical draft that was submitted by the United States, the text of which, I have said, is a kind of an anti-ceasefire resolution. It didn’t order a ceasefire, but effectively set out Israel’s conditions for ceasing its violations of international law. And that was a real problem, because a lot of U.S. media outlets were reporting on that resolution as a ceasefire resolution, when it was anything but.


But yesterday’s resolution was an actual ceasefire resolution — a rather weak one, which I will comment on, but it is a ceasefire resolution. It calls for a brief ceasefire, for access for humanitarian aid at scale, for lawful treatment of prisoners, including Palestinian prisoners, and for release of hostages. And it’s important because, you know, we’re in the midst of a genocide. And you have this nearly moribund Security Council that has failed for six months, that is finally succeeding at least in demanding a temporary ceasefire. Any pause will save lives. And any aid that gets in as a result, during an imposed starvation, will make a difference, no doubt about it. It’s also important because it’s a signal, again, of the very broad consensus across the global community against Israel’s onslaught on Gaza, and it will be another legal tool that can help in holding perpetrators accountable after the provisional order of the World Court on Israel’s genocide.


But, you know, unfortunately, while it contains some hopeful, aspirational language that may lead to a lasting ceasefire, it only demands a ceasefire during the month of Ramadan, which will end in just over two weeks. So it is a very short pause during this genocide. And we know that one of the U.S.’s conditions for not vetoing the resolution was the deletion of the word “permanent,” which of course changes the substance of the resolution very significantly.


So, despite all of this talk about tensions in U.S.-Israeli relations and this rare instance of the U.S. not vetoing a resolution on Israel’s behalf, the U.S. is clearly continuing to run interference on behalf of Israel at the U.N. And as you say, this is made all the more clear by the statements of the U.S. immediately after the adoption of the resolution, in which the U.S. has claimed — entirely falsely, by the way — that the ceasefire demand is conditional on the release of hostages and, secondly, that the resolution itself is nonbinding. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., made these claims in the session of the Security Council after the adoption of the resolution. Both of these claims are completely false and have no legal grounding. The U.N. Charter in its Article 25, subsequent decisions of the International Court of Justice have made this undisputable. Security Council resolutions are binding on all member states. And this is black-letter law in the Charter that says that all members of the United Nations are bound to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council, as I say, subsequently affirmed by the International Court of Justice.


And the claim that the ceasefire is to be conditioned on other factors like the release of hostages, this is completely false, as well. This was a key, central focus of the negotiations, was to make sure that these things were not conditioned one on the other, but they are separate demands of the Security Council. The United States knows this, but it is cynically distorting the record in order to, on the one hand, be able to claim that it has gone along or not blocked an international move toward a ceasefire, because of pressure from domestic and international constituencies, and, on the other hand, making sure that nothing really changes on the ground. It shows how the U.S. — how committed the U.S. has been to undercutting the resolution even before the ink was dry. So, if you look at the process, the U.S. used its power to water down the text during negotiations. It still did not vote in favor, only abstaining, and then immediately and falsely declared that it’s nonbinding and conditional.


And in the end, I have to say, we also know that Israel is unlikely to respect any of the terms of this resolution. They’ve already declared that they will not do so. And they have continued all of their military offensives and genocidal assaults on the Gaza Strip since the adoption of the resolution. We also know that the United States is very unlikely to use any leverage to compel Israel to comply with the resolution. And their language now on trying to claim that it’s nonbinding is evidence that that is their intent. So, the killing continues. Forced starvation continues. Genocide continues unabated.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And — 


CRAIG MOKHIBER: And I think that may be the — yes, go on.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Craig Mokhiber, what would be the — what would be the potential actions of the United Nations to a member state that does not adhere to a binding resolution of this type? And also, what is your response to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s canceling of the Israeli delegation to the U.S. over this vote?


CRAIG MOKHIBER: Well, I think Israel’s intentions have been made clear. If you listen to the statements of the prime minister and other cabinet ministers and military leaders, they have been clear from the beginning that they will not relent in their assault on the Gaza Strip until they’ve effectively accomplished the destruction of the entire strip. And their attacks now on Rafah, in particular, show that the last refuge, the last piece of the Gaza Strip that hasn’t been effectively destroyed, is not only in their sights, but already under their bombs. So Israel never has had any intention. In fact, Israel has the world record for violating Security Council, General Assembly, Human Rights Council resolutions in the United Nations. And that is unchanged.


But this resolution can make a difference. On the one hand, there is an opportunity, if Israel is in breach of the resolution, to bring a resolution for enforcement under Chapter VII. Now, of course, as we’ve said, the United States is likely to block, to veto that resolution, to prevent any enforcement, just as they will continue to block any enforcement of the decisions of the International Court of Justice regarding genocide in Palestine. In this case, because the U.S. has not vetoed it, they have, in effect, blocked action in the General Assembly under the Uniting for Peace resolution, where you could have seen some real meaningful action. You could have seen a resolution with teeth, with substance, resolution that included diplomatic, military, political, economic sanctions — not the enforcement of those sanctions, but the call for those sanctions — the deployment of a protection force, the establishment of a tribunal, the establishment of permanent mechanisms, as was the case within the United Nations during apartheid in South Africa. So, there are actions that could be taken here, but the nonveto has slowed action in the General Assembly, while at the same time allowing the United States to claim that, yes, the resolution passed, but somehow it’s not binding.


In the end, this all comes down to the — first, to the political will of member states across the organization, which already, after the provisional measures of the International Court of Justice, are obliged to be taking action to rein in Israel’s assault on Gaza — few have done so, but I think there is pressure building — and then, secondly, the obligation on all of us in civil society to make sure that we keep up the pressure, again, as was the case in South Africa, on our own countries to make sure that there are appropriate sanctions imposed on Israel to force it to comply and to end its genocide.


AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Kamal Qasim. He’s a displaced Palestinian in Gaza, responding to the U.N. Security Council vote in New York.

KAMAL QASIM: [translated] We hope that the decision is implemented and that it is taken seriously, because we know that Israel is stubborn and doesn’t pay attention to the Security Council or any Western countries or Arab countries. And you can see what the situation is like, and the life that we are living is very, very difficult, with big massacres and genocides — not just one genocide — and the situation is very, very hard. And we hope a ceasefire comes quickly and that the decision is implemented.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Craig Mokhiber, I’m wondering if can you respond to that. And also, we’re getting all sorts of reports on whether the Qatar talks are continuing, those negotiations. Majed al-Ansari, a spokesperson for Qatar’s Foreign Ministry, tells reporters negotiations on a truce are still ongoing. He rejected Israeli claims that the U.N. Security Council resolution calling for ceasefire had an immediate impact on the talks. The Times of Israel said Israel has cut off Gaza truce talks in Qatar as a result. Your response and where you see this all headed at this point? I mean, even as we talk about whether Israel is going to launch a full-scale invasion, I think in the last 24 hours since the U.N. Security Council resolution was passed, something like 80 to 100 Palestinians were killed, most of them in Rafah.


CRAIG MOKHIBER: Yeah, absolutely. And this is the challenge of enforcement. It’s clear that as long as Israel’s principal sponsor — I’d say its co-belligerent — the United States of America, is not committed to reining in Israel’s assaults, those assaults are going to continue, regardless of what the International Court of Justice or the Security Council or other legal mechanisms at the international level rule. They are blocked by the power of the United States in actually giving force to the decisions that they take. And unfortunately, that’s what we’re seeing on the ground.


This is an opportunity. Right? It provides a diplomatic tool and a legal tool to press for at least this two-week-plus pause on the ground. But the clock is already ticking. Nothing has changed so far. Israel has been explicit in its rejection of the resolution, and the United States has been explicit in its position that the resolution is nonbinding, and therefore, if it’s nonbinding, it doesn’t make any sense for them to take action to try to enforce it.


The key element of the U.S.'s engagement on this was to try to keep the Security Council, and the United Nations generally, at arm's length so that all the center of gravity would remain with them and their diplomatic — so-called diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, together with the Egyptians and the Qataris. Those talks have not borne fruit. Israel has repeatedly boycotted portions of those talks.


You know, an opportunity for a two-week pause that this resolution provides is disappearing with each passing day. And so are the opportunities to try to turn that two-week pause, as is suggested in the resolution, into something that is more lasting. The U.S. refused to allow the word “permanent,” but something more lasting. So the pressure is going to have to come from elsewhere. It’s not going to come from these key pressure points. It’s going to have to come from civil society. It’s going to have to come from private actors. And again, as I said before, it’s going to have to come from all of us.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Craig Mokhiber, I wanted to ask you — there’s been, for years now, efforts to restructure the United Nations, especially the Security Council, precisely because of the overwhelming power that the old European major powers exercised over the Security Council. Do you think that this war and the inability of the U.N. to act to end it will now further fuel the move to reform the U.N.?


CRAIG MOKHIBER: Well, one can hope, Juan, I have to say. I mean, I think what this genocide has done is it has revealed the weaknesses, the political compromises, the moral failings of the United Nations and other international institutions. It has shown itself to be wholly inadequate, wholly unable to respond to a genocide being committed with Western sponsorship, with the sponsorship of powerful Western states. If this were happening in a developing country in Africa or Asia, you would see a very different response. But when the perpetators, the co-perpetrators are the United States, the United Kingdom, European powers, the United Nations has shown itself unable to act.


You see that even in the language of the Security Council resolution. We’re talking about a situation of massive war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide. Because the Security Council is not set up to deal effectively with that, especially when one of its permanent members or two of its permanent members, at least, are implicated in that genocide, it’s forced to dust off language about conflict as if this were a war between two states rather than a campaign of annihilation by a heavily armed occupying power against a besieged civilian population. And that is not going to get the job done. You get a resolution that calls for a ceasefire — even ceasefire language is not appropriate to a genocide, as the World Court itself has determined — and you get, you know, no language in here that condemns the perpetrators, that moves for accountability of perpetrators, that deals with the deployment of protection of the exposed civilian population, none of the things that would actually make a difference.


And it’s not just the Security Council. The political offices of the United Nations that have been set up to deal with issues like genocide, like sexual violence, like children in armed conflict, they have all failed miserably, because they are politically compromised, politically controlled. Unlike the independent human rights mechanisms, that have done a terrific job, and the humanitarian aid workers, that have done a terrific job in the U.N. system, these political offices and intergovernmental bodies have shown themselves to be wholly ineffective.


So it certainly has increased the demand for reform. Whether there will be a willingness amongst the member states, and in particular amongst the P5, the most powerful member states of the United Nations, who sit with special rights on the Security Council, in a mechanism that belongs in a Cold War museum, their lack of political will for change is what obstructs this. I still believe that demand from the ground can make a change. We saw it happen with apartheid in South Africa. We can see it happen, as well, if we work for it, for reforms in the U.N., which I think have to happen — we need the United Nations — and, on the other hand, for action against Israel’s genocide.


AMY GOODMAN: Craig Mokhiber, we just have 30 seconds, but the question of U.S. stopping military sales to Israel, an issue that certainly Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Merkley and others have called for, do you think that would make a difference?


CRAIG MOKHIBER: Well, it would make a tremendous difference, as I’ve said before. The United States is not just tolerating this genocide. It is, in legal terms, complicit in the genocide because of its provision of military support, of weapons, of economic support, of diplomatic cover, of intelligence support, and of, as I’ve said, the use of its official podiums to disseminate propaganda for genocide on behalf of the Israelis. Any piece of that puzzle that is removed, and especially discontinuing the provision of military aid during the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, will make a very significant change and, in fact, a much more significant change than any international resolution could hope to make.


AMY GOODMAN: Craig Mokhiber, international human rights lawyer, formerly served as the director of the New York office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, where he worked for more than 30 years as a human rights official, resigning in October over the U.N.'s failure to adequately address the Israel-Palestine conflict and Israel's assault on Gaza.


Coming up, a judge in New York has decided the first of Donald Trump’s four criminal trials will begin April 15th. We’ll speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston, in 20 seconds.'


 

Democracy Now, 2024

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