UK abstention in UN vote on Gaza ceasefire condemned as ‘incomprehensible’

British stance draws criticism as UN Secretary General warns of deteriorating humanitarian situation

The UK's stance on a UN ceasefire resolution on Gaza has highlighted the complexities of international diplomacy in conflict zones, experts say. AFP
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There has been mixed reaction after the UK chose to abstain from the vote on a UAE-drafted resolution at Friday's UN Security Council meeting, which called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

The resolution calling for an urgent cessation of hostilities was ultimately blocked by a veto from the US, despite receiving support from 13 of the council's 15 members.

Commenting on the UK's decision to abstain, Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf described it as “incomprehensible”.

The resolution came in response to the situation in Gaza, which UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

Mr Guterres emphasised the imminent threat of starvation and the potential for mass displacement, painting a grave picture of the crisis.

The abstention was defended by Dame Barbara Woodward, UK ambassador to the UN, who said Britain backs “further and longer pauses” to get aid to Palestinians and to allow the release of Israeli hostages.

She said the UK “cannot vote in favour of a resolution which does not condemn the atrocities Hamas committed against innocent Israeli civilians” on October 7.

“Calling for a ceasefire ignores the fact that Hamas has committed acts of terror and is still holding civilians hostage,” she added.

The ambassador said the “continuing acts of terror and the hostage situation” were pivotal concerns.

But the abstention drew much criticism.

Mr Yousaf said he agreed with criticism by Save the Children UK of Britain's move, and voiced his “disbelief and disappointment”.

He questioned the rationale behind the UK's choice, saying there would be grave implications of not supporting a ceasefire, particularly in the context of the lives of thousands of children affected by the conflict.

The head of humanitarian policy at ActionAid UK, Ziad Issa, condemned the UK's action.

“It is devastating to see the UK miss this critical opportunity to vote to call for a permanent ceasefire and end the unbearable suffering of 2.3 million people in Gaza,” he said.

“With aid operations no longer able to meaningfully function anywhere in the territory and infrastructure on the brink of collapse, now is the moment for international action.”

Mr Issa pointed to the dire state of aid operations and infrastructure in the region, urging leaders to prioritise humanity over conflict.

“The scenes in Gaza have rightfully been described as apocalyptic. How much more death and destruction will it take before leaders put humanity first and decide enough is enough?”

US vetoes Security Council resolution calling for Gaza ceasefire

US vetoes Security Council resolution calling for Gaza ceasefire

Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: “Yesterday marked a new shameful chapter in the complicity of successive UK governments with Israel’s violation of international law.

“Yesterday 13 members of UN SC voted for a permanent ceasefire, voted for the release of all hostages, voted for humanitarian aid to be brought immediately into Gaza to prevent more suffering of the people who are currently displaced, who are currently sheltering wherever they can unable to return to their homes.

''The vast majority of British people are calling for a ceasefire and hundreds of thousands will be marching today to echo that call.''

UK's voting patterns on Israel-Palestine issues at the UN

Some critics see the abstention as a failure to decisively address the humanitarian crisis, while others say it as an acknowledgement of the multifaceted aspects of the conflict, including the actions of Hamas.

The UK's stance in UN votes on the Israel-Palestine conflict has often mirrored its diplomatic efforts to maintain a balanced approach, striving to address both Israeli security concerns and Palestinian rights.

This equilibrium has occasionally led to the UK abstaining on resolutions perceived as overly critical of either side, particularly when they are seen as not fully addressing issues such as security and acts of terrorism.

Consistently, the UK has championed a two-state solution, advocating for Israel's right to exist in peace and security alongside a viable, independent Palestinian state. This principle has guided many of the UK's votes in favour of resolutions promoting peaceful coexistence and mutual recognition.

On matters of humanitarian concern and Israeli settlements, the UK has frequently lent its support to resolutions that call for an end to settlement expansion in the occupied territories and highlight the need for addressing humanitarian crises in Gaza and the West Bank.

The UK has used abstention as a strategic diplomatic tool. When faced with resolutions that might not contribute constructively to the peace process or seem unbalanced, the UK's abstention signalled its nuanced position on complex issues.

Over the years, the UK's voting patterns have evolved, influenced by changing global politics, shifts in its own foreign policy, and the dynamic nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict. This evolution underscores the UK's continuing re-evaluation and adaptation to the realities of the conflict and the international diplomatic landscape.

Its decisions at the UN are often influenced by its relationships with key international partners, including the US and EU. These alliances can lead to co-ordinated voting patterns or shared positions on certain issues, reflecting broader geopolitical considerations and partnerships.

Updated: December 09, 2023, 12:41 PM