By EDITH M. LEDERER
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. General Assembly approved a Palestinian-backed resolution Wednesday blaming Israel for violence in Gaza after narrowly rejecting a U.S. demand to add a condemnation of attacks on Israel by Gaza’s Hamas rulers. The votes reflected wide concern in the 193-member world body that the resolution sponsored by Arab and Islamic nations was one-sided and failed to even mention Hamas which has fired over 100 rockets at Israel — an issue the United States attempted to rectify in its amendment.
Since near-weekly mass protests began March 30 along the Israel-Gaze border, more than 120 Palestinians have been killed and over 3,800 wounded by Israeli army fire. The overwhelming majority of the dead and wounded have been unarmed, according to Gaza health officials. Israel says Hamas uses the protests as cover for attacks on the border fence.
Algerian Ambassador Sabri Boukadoum, representing Arab nations, first sought to block a vote on the U.S. amendment, saying it wasn’t relevant to the resolution. He said it also undermined reconciliation efforts between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah as well as the “remote prospects” of reviving peace negotiations with Israel.
His motion to take “no action” on the amendment was defeated by a vote of 59-78 with 26 abstentions, allowing the U.S. amendment to be put to a vote. The U.S. motion was approved on 62-58 vote, with 42 abstentions. But General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak declared that under an assembly rule, a two-thirds majority was needed so the amendment failed.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley appealed, citing another rule that says only a majority vote was required. After a short break, Lajcak then put the U.S. appeal to a vote. The U.S. narrowly lost that vote 66-73 with 26 abstentions. Finally, the assembly voted on the original Palestinian-backed resolution, approving it 120-8 with 45 abstentions.
The resolution’s text deplores “any excessive use of force” by Israeli forces, particularly in Gaza, and demands that Israel “refrain from such actions.” It also seeks recommendations from U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Gutterese on ensuring protection for Palestinian civilians, including an “international protection mechanism.” The Palestinians had initially sought a Security Council resolution after Israel’s military killed civilians during the mass protests in Gaza against the border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt in 2007 after Hamas overran the territory. The U.S. vetoed that resolution June 1, with Haley calling it “grossly one-sided” for criticizing the use of force by Israel while not mentioning Hamas.
Arab and Islamic nations then decided to seek a vote on virtually the identical resolution at Wednesday’s emergency meeting of the 193-member General Assembly, where there are no vetoes. The Palestinians and their supporters followed the same route they took in December after the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on President Donald Trump to renounce his recognition of Israel as Jerusalem’s capital. The General Assembly largely ignored Trump’s threats at the time to cut off aid to any country that went against the United States and voted 128-9 to denounce the U.S. president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and declare it “null and void.” Wednesday’s assembly meeting reflected the deep divisions that persist over the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The marchers in Gaza have pressed demands for a “right of return” for descendants of Palestinian refugees to ancestral homes in what is now Israel. More than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled in the 1948 Mideast war over Israel’s creation. Two-thirds of Gaza’s 2 million residents are descendants of refugees. The resolution adopted Wednesday calls for “immediate steps towards ending the closure and the restrictions imposed by Israel on movement and access into and out of the Gaza Strip.” It also “deplores the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip against Israeli civilian areas,” but doesn’t say who is doing the firing.
While Security Council resolutions are legally binding, General Assembly resolutions are not, although assembly spokesman Brendan Varma stressed Wednesday that they do reflect “political will” as well as international opinion.