UNSC and Promotion of International Insecurity: The Case of US Veto in Israelo-Palestinian Conflict

Bola A. Akinterinwa 

The UNSC (United Nations Security Council) is believed to be the most important and powerful organ of the United Nations for various reasons. First, right from the inception of the modern state system introduced at the end of the thirty-year old European War in 1648 and leading to the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia, use of force was lawful. Even the Covenant of the League of Nations did not prohibit the use of force by States. It was when the United Nations Charter prohibits in its Article 2(4) the use of force in international relations that war became illegal, with the exception of collective self-defence provided for under Article 51. 

The terrible experiences of World War I, in which France lost more than two million people, and World War II, in which the holocaust against the Jews prompted the international community to say ‘Never Again,’ compelled world leaders to want to prevent the use of force in inter-state relations. It is for this reason that the promotion of international peace and security is made the main objective of the United Nations (UN). The responsibility of the UN is to prevent a new scourge of world war and for which the UNSC is given the unique responsibility. With this responsibility, the UNSC necessarily becomes the policing Council of the world, doing and undoing whatever it considers to be in the interest of global peace and security.

Secondly, five of the 15 Members of the UNSC are Permanent Members, while the other ten members are elected on a two-yearly basis. The Five Members are referred to as the P-5. They are the only Members with the right of Veto which makes a nonsense of any majority vote on substantive, and not on procedural, matters. Thirdly, the P-5 are also officially recognized as the Nuclear-Weapons States as per the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty. As the only recognized nuclear powers, they do not want any other country to join them and they also do not want any access of any country to nuclear status. Fourthly, and most importantly, they simply govern the world on the basis of their national interest thanks to the reckless use of the right of veto. It is on this basis that the United States, in particular, has been protecting Israel to the detriment of the maintenance of global peace and security.

UNSC and Global Peace

Unlike the UNGA where deliberations are about the viewpoints of Member States, where focus is on international questions of interest to them, and where decision-taking is either taken by simple majority or by two-thirds majority, UNSC is hardly by simple majority. It is only when interest is common to all the P-5 that a situation of simple majority can exist. Any voting that antagonizes the national interest of any of the P-5 has the fate of being thrown out with a veto. It should be noted here that, decisions on more important or substantive issues – peace and security, membership of the UN, UN budget, etc. – are generally taken by two-thirds majority, while other issues are decided based on simple majority. Use of veto cares less for the distinction between substantive and procedural questions. 

Explained differently, and without any shadow of doubt, the P-5 strongly believe in ‘power is might’ and ‘might is right.’ To that extent, regardless of whatever resolution is adopted or the pretension of the UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) is all about, any member of the P-5 can always exercise the right of veto at any time in its own national interest, but to the detriment of the required maintenance of international peace and security. Without doubt, the UNSC, acting within the framework of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, can take any measure to maintain or enforce international peace and security. It is also in this regard that the UNSC has established the UN Peacekeeping Operations and Special Political Missions. But more often than not, the UNSC P-5 have acted in defence of their national interest than in the protection of international peace and security. This is more so because the provisions of the UN Charter are generally rigid. No one can easily amend the charter without reckoning with the whims and caprices of the P-5. For instance, amendment of the UN Charter is subject to the approval by a vote of two-thirds of the membership of the UNGA and with ratifications by two-thirds of the governments with the affirmative approval of and ratification by all the P-5. In other words, nothing can move forward without the consent of every Member of the P-5. This is why the United States can always call the bluff of the majority. However, an UNGA resolution adopted by two-thirds vote has the potential to override a P-5 veto, if a special emergency session of the UNGA is convened within 24 hours of the vetoed resolution, which was what the UNGA did last week.

As the body language of the P-5 suggests non-acceptance of expansion of the P-5 with right of veto extended to the new members, or acceptance of new Permanent Members but without veto power, a likely scenario is that the P-5 may prefer to opt out of the UN rather than let go their privilege of veto. It is true that the grant of veto to them was on the basis of their victorious status during World War II. They are also the recognized nuclear weapon powers. What happens if they withdraw from the United Nations? Whatever is the case, the P-5 status sustains inequality, injustice and unfairness. If the P-5 were victorious, many African countries were also part of the victory, and yet they are not part of the causal factors of the war. World War II was the making of Europe. If there is payment of dividends of victory, the dependent territories cannot and should not be set aside. This is why African leaders should make more efforts to strengthen the African Union to become self-reliant and not dependent on any regional or global institution. 

Grosso modo, the United Nations underscores preventive diplomacy, and especially peaceful coexistence, as well as adoption of non-forceful methods of conflict resolution: conciliation, reconciliation, good offices, etc. But where these peaceful efforts do not work, diplomacy is still not set aside but peace enforcement strategies are adopted until peace is restored and diplomacy is again brought back to sustain negotiations. In this regard, emphasis is generally placed on disarmament, demobilization, the Nigerian Gowonian style of reconciliation, reconstruction, and rehabilitation. The UN also underscores reintegration of combatants, promotion of constitutional developments, restoration of rule of law, and promotion of human rights.

As noted by the United Nations (vide “United Nations Peace, dignity and equality on a healthy planet,” in the un.org), ‘peacekeeping operations get their mandates from the UNSC; their troops and police are contributed by Member States, and they are managed by the Department of Peace Operations and supported by the Department of Operational Support at UN Headquarters in New York.’ 71 UN peacekeeping missions were deployed between 1948 and now and there are currently 11 UN peacekeeping missions in the world of today. These missions clearly suggest that the UNSC has not been able to put crises and conflicts under control, even though there has not been any Third World War. Again, this is in spite of the fact that the UN Secretary-General was able to launch the A4P (Action for Peacekeeping Initiative) in 2018 in order to strengthen peacekeeping by promoting collective action by all peacekeeping stakeholders.

Before the October 7, 2023 Hamas attack on Israel, the identified major threats to peace included the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, trans-border crimes, terrorism, and cyber-attacks. As at today, the Israelo-Hamas war has the great potential to engender a global war in an unprecedented manner if caution is not taken with wisdom. Israeli bombings have been indiscriminate in Gaza. Whether to launch attack in Rafal in the south where most of the internationally-protected reside remains a moot concern as at today. Majority of the Member States of the international community now have greater sympathy for the Palestinians. In fact, Israel has been isolated more than ever before. With these challenges, the UNSC is making strenuous efforts to bring Israel under international control but the United States is frustrating the efforts with use of its right of veto.  In this regard, can there really be any sustainable peacekeeping when it does not even exist? Can we be talking about peacemaking when a veto power, and even President Joe Biden is pro-Israel to the heart? If there is no peace to keep, no peace to make, no peace to build, and if the United States will continue to veto every effort meant to make the Palestinian Organisation more responsible within the framework of the UNGA, what then is the goodness, if any, in the purpose of establishing the UNO?

In fact, in April 2024, the admission of the PLO as a full member of the United Nations was tabled for discussion and approval but the United States vetoed the resolution on it. Again, on Friday 10 May, 2024, the UNGA gave overwhelming support for the full membership of the PLO: 143 States voted in favour. At least 37 African countries voted in favour: Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia, Uganda United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Malawi is the only African country on record to have voted against the full membership of the PLO of the UN. Even if the Palestinians are yet to become full members of the UN, ‘they can now sit among Member States in alphabetical order; they can speak at General Assembly meetings on any topic instead of being limited to Palestinian affairs; they can submit proposals and amendments; and they can participate at UN conferences and international meetings organized by the Assembly and other UN entities’ (vide nytimes.com).

US and Blockade of UNGA Resolutions

As noted by Creede Newton on 19 May 2021 on the platform of Aljazeera, the United States has vetoed, at least, 53 UNSC resolutions that were critical of Israel since 1972. In his words, ‘on Monday (17th May, 2021) Washington blocked a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas – the United States’ third such veto reportedly within a week.’ Additionally, Creede Newton said ‘the US’s unequivocal support of Israel has seen it thwart resolutions condemning violence against protesters, illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank built since 1967 and even calls for an investigation into the 1990 killing of seven Palestinian workers by a former Israeli soldier.’

These observations are noteworthy because of the many questions underlying the US’s unequivocal support for Israel. Put differently, what is the US foreign policy interest by supporting the Israel’s complete disregard for international law and particularly for international humanitarian law? About 750 Palestinians were forced to leave Palestine in 1948. When they protested at the Israeli border fence in 2018 for their right to return to their ancestral homes, the United States supported Israel against them.

As a result of the death of 266 people and of the injury of 30,000 people during the protests, the UNSC came up with a draft resolution that showed ‘grave concern at the escalation of violence and tensions,’ since the beginning of the protests. The draft resolution also expressed deep alarm at the loss of civilian lives and the high number of casualties among Palestinian civilians, particularly in the Gaza Strip, including casualties among children, caused by the Israeli forces. The draft resolution was vetoed by the United States allegedly because the draft resolution had ‘a grossly one-sided view of what has taken place in Gaza in recent weeks.’

The issue in this case is determining what is of more importance: the escalation of violence and tensions or the one-sided view? The truth in this matter is that it was actually the position of the United States that was one-sided and not the collective wisdom of all others. Israel openly violates several international laws to the chagrin of the civilized Member States of the international community but to the happiness of the Israelis and Americans. The United States does not respect the resolutions of the UNSC and yet it is presenting itself to the world as a mediator and peace seeker. The United States, unfortunately, is majorly an obstacle to international peace and security. One good example is the position of the United Nations on the status of East Jerusalem.

For the purposes of promotion of international peace and security, the international community reserved East Jerusalem as future capital of the State of Palestine but the Israelis opted to occupy it since 1967. Internationally, East Jerusalem has never been recognized as an Israeli territory. However, the United States not only recognized Jerusalem as an Israeli land, but also moved its diplomatic mission from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Both the Israelis and Americans have disregard for UNSC resolution and general public international law. This is criminally and self-tainting and the United States cannot but pity itself in the foreseeable future.

More disturbingly, a draft resolution done on December 18, 2017 has it that ‘any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status, or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void, and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council.’ But the United States vetoed the resolution, arguing that the United States had had the courage and honesty to recognize a fundamental reality. Jerusalem has been the political, cultural and spiritual homeland of the Jewish people for thousands of years.’

True enough, Jerusalem might have been a homeland for the Jews, was it then exclusive to the Jews? If the British, as a result of the November 2, 1917 William Balfour Declaration, promised a homeland for the Jews, how does the United States explain the fact of no homeland for the Jews at any given point in time and that it was thanks to the United Nations in 1948 that a part of Jerusalem was given to Israel? The mere fact that there was Palestine, with Palestinians as inhabitants, before Britain, as the Mandated Authority controlling Palestine, facilitated the return of Jews to Palestine, and the mere fact that the United Nations partitioned Palestine into two unequal parts on the ratio of 56% to 44%, clearly shows that the ownership of land is necessarily shared. The same is true of the territory of Jerusalem which was also shared into two.

Another truth is that the United States has been the major factor of political instability, international insecurity and major source of international terrorism. When the British had serious problems in managing the crisis of homeland for the Jews, with the Palestinians and the Jews engaging in violent protests, Britain had to transfer the matter to the United Nations for solution. At the United Nations, the US and the UK machinations enabled the unfair partitioning of Palestine into 56% for Israel and 44% for Palestinians in spite of the fact that Palestinians outnumber the Jews. Apparently in anticipation of future Jewish returnees into Palestine more land was allocated based on unfair policy. 

More importantly, the United States was the first country to recognize the State of Israel in 1948, but has not been able to see any Israeli wrong doings in Israeli’s international relations with the Arab world. And true, the United States may disagree with any Israeli government, this should not be confused with the US policy on the State of Israel. The United States has a distinctive foreign policy recognition of the State of Israel and a foreign policy recognition of the Israeli government which are two different kettles of fish entirely.

The point being made here is that, since 1983, whenever UNSC resolutions condemn Israel for violations of humanitarian law, the United States was always there to veto them, especially when relating to Israel’s settlement on Palestinian land. This simply means that the United States truly wants the Israelis to acquire more Palestinian land contrarily to the UN position and international law. While people are complaining about 750 settlers in not less than 250 settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has, additionally, been flagrantly encouraging Israeli occupation of Palestinian land since 2005 and the United States simply turns away its eyes. It is simply because Israel is increasingly being isolated internationally and that the United States, as a major ally, is also being seen as an accomplice in the commission of Israeli crimes against humanity and particularly in Israel’s genocidal crimes, that the Washingtonian authorities began to take the bad end of the stick in their relations with Benjamin Netanyahu in the ongoing war with the Hamas. Not vetoing at times to the surprise of Israel, should be an eye opener to the Americans that every empire shall perish one day.

As such, was the United States not a major obstacle to the maintenance of international peace and security by vetoing the 2011 draft resolution that reaffirmed that ‘all Israeli settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of peace on the basis of the two-State solution’? On the other hand, US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, admitted that all Israeli settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories were illegal, but still afford the luxury of arguing that ‘it is unwise for this Council (UNSC) to attempt to resolve the core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians.’

This submission of Susan Rice appears to be ridiculous and illogical. Why shouldn’t the UNSC not address what was separating the Israelis and the Palestinians? Is Susan Rice not directly advocating non-solution to the core issues in the dispute? It is a very welcome development that the whole world, and particularly, several African countries voted in support of the PLO’s UN full membership, even if the United States vetoed it. One day, not to say sooner than later, the right of veto will be thrown into the dustbin of history and new foundations for sustainable peace will be laid. Africa should therefore begin to think of an Africa without the United Nations. The United Nations, as it is today, is not united and can never be united. It is an organization of unequal members and the organization can never be of equal members without accepting to amend and modify the UN Charter. But for now, Africa’s support, and particularly that of Nigeria for the Palestinians, is very significant. It is a vote against Israeli war and genocidal crimes. It sends a message to US president Joe Biden, that not all African leaders are puppets and blind. Some of them still have the political integrity to resist Joe Biden’s threat to punish whoever votes against US foreign policy interest. By voting for, Nigeria is seeing clearly, and must see more clearly, by particularly asking why the P-5 and other great powers preach the sermon of democratization since the 1990 La Baule Franco-African Summit but refuse the democratization of the UN. 


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