Russia, China say UN resolution demanding halt to Gaza war is binding

“What the hell is the point of the UN or the UN Security Council?” an Associated Press reporter asked at a US State Department briefing.

By Mike Wagenheim | | Topics: Gaza, Russia, China, Biden
Tor Wennesland (on screen), UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, briefs the United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, on March 26, 2024. Credit: Eskinder Debebe/UN Photo.
Tor Wennesland (on screen), UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, briefs the United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, on March 26, 2024. Credit: Eskinder Debebe/UN Photo.

Washington continued to insist on Tuesday that a UN Security Council ceasefire resolution, which passed the day before with the United States abstaining rather than vetoing, is non-binding. The council spent much of its time on Tuesday litigating that very issue.

“The resolution today is a non-binding resolution,” Matthew Miller, the US State Department spokesman, said at the department’s press briefing on Monday.

When Miller said that he didn’t think the resolution would have an impact on negotiations for a ceasefire and hostage release, Matt Lee, the Associated Press diplomatic writer, followed up.

“So I don’t expect you to answer this now, but maybe just stick this in your pocket,” Lee said. “If that’s the case, what the hell is the point of the UN or the UN Security Council?”

Lee wasn’t at Tuesday’s State Department briefing, but Miller was asked again about the “non-binding” UN resolution.

“I’d like to come back to it because it’s a little bit mind-boggling to me. Since when is a UN resolution, a Security Council UN resolution, non-binding? Because that’s a significant shift,” a reporter asked on Tuesday. “That’s not the understanding of most countries, and it’s not the understanding of the UN either.”

“We have always believed that the path to a ceasefire and the release of hostages is something that will be reached through negotiations between Israel and Hamas, enabled by third-party countries and in which the United States is participating, and not through a UN process,” Miller said. “That remains our belief.”

Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, briefs reporters on the situations of Ukraine, Russia, Afghanistan and the Gaza Strip on Feb. 19, 2024. Credit: Eskinder Debebe/UN Photo.

“When we say the resolution is non-binding, what we mean is that it does not impose any new obligations on the parties, the way, for example, some UN resolutions that impose obligatory sanctions, impose actual requirements on people to implement them,” Miller added.

“That said, we do believe that even though there are—this resolution lacks non-binding provisions and lacks new requirements that is imposed on the parties, it does carry weight and it is something that should be implemented,” he said.

The same questions came up on Tuesday during a regular, scheduled monthly session of the Security Council addressing the Israeli-Palestinian file. The council was slated to focus on issues in Judea and Samaria, but the meeting veered at times to debate over the effectiveness—or lack thereof—of the council given Washington’s claims.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said on Monday—explaining Washington’s abstention—that “we fully support some of the critical objectives in this non-binding resolution.”

Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, asked about that remark on Tuesday during the council meeting.

“Do yesterday’s statements by Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield mean that the US no longer considers itself bound by the UN Charter? And, furthermore, does it encourage Israel to do so?” Nebenzia asked. “If that is the case, there is simply no point in our discussions in this room.”

“One of the permanent members of the UN Security Council actually openly declares that it does not obey the charter of our organization, disavowing all the hard-won results of the council’s deliberations, including the historic resolution on a ceasefire in Gaza,” the Russian envoy said.

He added that Israel, with Washington’s “blessing,” now has “carte blanche” despite “the direct demand of the UN Security Council and is not going to stop until it razes Gaza to the ground.”

Zhang Jun (right on screen and at dais), Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, addresses a special meeting in observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on Nov. 29, 2023. Credit: Mark Garten/UN Photo.

‘We will continue to emphasize’

Zhang Jun, China’s ambassador to the United Nations, said that Washington’s claim that the resolution is non-binding “makes us question the political will and sincerity of the US.” He added that the resolution’s binding nature “is beyond any doubt or challenge.”

Robert Wood, Washington’s deputy UN envoy, did not address the controversy in his comments. He did focus on Rafah, where Israel has said it must operate to destroy Hamas, and Washington has said it must not do so.

“We continue to advise the Israeli government against a major ground operation into Rafah,” Wood said. “We share Israel’s goal of defeating Hamas, which is responsible for the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust and we share the goal of ensuring Israel’s long-term security. As we have said though, a major military ground operation in Rafah is not the way to do it.”

Wood added that US President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Thomas-Greenfield “all have communicated to senior Israeli officials in recent weeks, and we will continue to emphasize.”

Nicolas de Rivière, France’s ambassador to the United Nations, said on Tuesday that his country would never recognize Israeli communities beyond the so-called “Green Line” as legitimate. He told the council that Paris is considering more sanctions against Jewish settlers.

He added that France will soon present an initiative in the council regarding the future of Gaza in a unified Palestinian state.