The Security Council held an emergency session earlier this morning calling for an immediate humanitarian pause in fighting in Gaza. In a Presidential statement, the Council called for “an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire, allowing for the delivery of urgently needed assistance” and urged the parties to stay engaged with negotiations lead by Egypt, Ban Ki Moon and John Kerry.
So what’s next?
This is a “statement” and not a UN Security Council resolution. The difference, in terms of force of law, is significant. A statement is simply an expression of Security Council unity on an issue. In this case, every Security Council member is clearly expressing to Hamas and Israel that the Council wants to see a ceasefire implemented. A statement like this can carry significant political weight because it reflects broad international consensus on this issue. But it does not carry the force of law as would a Security Council resolution. Should either side violate the will of the Security Council statement they could theoretically face political and diplomatic censure, but no legal repercussions. On the other hand, a resolution does carry the force of law. Violating a Security Council resolution is theoretically grounds for some sort of punitive measure agains the offending party.
In these cases, statements are often preludes to resolutions. This is now the second Security Council statement issued on the Gaza conflict. The first, on July 12, called for an immediate de-escalation. That clearly did not happen. Now, two weeks later we have a resolution that unambiguously calls for an immediate ceasefire.
The key question now is whether or not the sides will abide by the statement. If Israel and Hamas respect the will of the Security Council and maintain a humanitarian pause in fighting, we will likely see diplomatic efforts intensify to turn this humanitarian pause into a durable and lasting ceasefire. If not, the Security Council will have to decide whether or not it wants to impose a ceasefire by passing a legally binding resolution on the matter. I suspect we will know the answer to this question in the coming few hours and days.
Bonus content! For a deeper dive into the regional diplomacy surrounding a ceasefire in Gaza, listen to my brief interview with Michael Hanna of the Century Foundation
Here’s the full text of the statement.
The Security Council expresses grave concern regarding the deterioration in the situation as a result of the crisis related to Gaza and the loss of civilian lives and casualties.
The Security Council callsfor full respect of international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilian population, and reiterates the need to take appropriate steps to ensure the safety and well-being of civilians and their protection.
The Security Council expresses strong support for the call by international partners and the Secretary-General of the United Nations for an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire, allowing for the delivery of urgently needed assistance, and they urged all parties to accept and fully implement the humanitarian ceasefire into the Eid period and beyond. The Security Councilcommends the efforts of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for their efforts in this regard.
The Security Council also calls on parties to engage in efforts to achieve a durable and fully respected ceasefire, based on the Egyptian initiative. In this regard, the Security Council welcomes the efforts of international partners and the convening of the international meeting to support the ceasefire held in Paris on July 26, 2014and urges all concerned regional and international parties to vigorously support efforts to consolidate an agreement between the parties.
The Security Council emphasizes that civilian and humanitarian facilities, including those of the UN, must be respected and protected, and called on all parties to act consistently with this principle.
The Security Council calls for the full implementation of resolution 1860 (2009) and stressed the need for immediate provision of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip, including through urgent additional contribution to UNRWA. The Security Council recognizes and commends the vital role played by the Agency, along with other United Nations agencies and humanitarian organizations, in addressing the critical humanitarian needs in Gaza.
The Security Council urges the parties and the international community to achieve a comprehensive peace based on the vision of a region where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace with secure and recognized borders as envisioned in Security Council resolution 1850 (2008).