security council 224.88.
(photo credit: Courtesy )
The United Nations Security Council resolution that passed overnight Thursday, demanding "an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza," was followed almost right away by further rocket fire on Israel from Gaza and resumed Israeli military operations in the Strip.
The fact that the call for a halt was not heeded, however, does not detract from the resolution's negative impact. Nor does the fact that the resolution specifies no repercussions if it is ignored, or that some of its text actually mirrors Israeli demands and interests.
This was a case of the world wagging its finger angrily at Israel - Hamas, after all, is a terrorist organization, with no formal international legitimacy and not directly answerable to the UN.
The vote was 14-0. Even Israel's sole dependable international ally, the United States, chose not to exercise its veto, instead opting to abstain.
The passage of the resolution, therefore, will be seen in the frenzied climate of international debate over Israel's anti-Hamas assault as legitimating unbridled criticism.
Israel is committing "genocide" in Gaza, a rank-and-file participant in the large, seething demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy in London told the BBC on Saturday evening.
"There must be a free Palestine," said another.
The UN vote will only confirm to such "ordinary" protesters that they are the upholders of morality, and that Israel is the ethical sinner, unjustified in claiming that Hamas bears root responsibility for all those Gaza deaths and that Hamas is deliberately waging war at the expense of the very people it purports to represent.
None of this will have been offset by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's comments to reporters at the State Department on Friday that Gaza is "an area in which Hamas participates in activities like human shields and using buildings that are not designated as military buildings to hide their fighters, so it's hard."
That Israeli opposition politicians consider the passage of the resolution to have been a diplomatic fiasco is predictable. The criticism from within the government is more telling.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was torn between the need to be home in Israel, as a vital member of the most senior decision-making political forum, and to be in New York, personally putting Israel's case in the debate with her fellow foreign ministers.
But while Livni's rise to the positions of Kadima leader and would-be prime minister reflects a meteoric career trajectory, even she cannot be in two places at once. The outcome of the vote indicates that she made the wrong choice.
The recently appointed UN ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, proved unable to stop the diplomatic juggernaut being driven by heavyweight foreign ministers. A telephone call from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to US President George Bush could salvage only an abstention where a veto had been expected.
Practically speaking, despite the government's insistence that the military operation must go on, the vote manifestly narrows Israel's "window of opportunity."
The mounting civilian death toll, no matter what the circumstances, inexorably heightens the diplomatic momentum.
Humanitarian concerns have reduced the IDF's room to maneuver. A brief suspension of humanitarian activities by UNRWA, in response to a series of fatal incidents involving its facilities and personnel, has been lifted. But there is precious little room left for error, precisely as the IDF seeks to probe for opportunities to hurt Hamas deeper inside Gaza's most densely populated areas.
Yet, as Olmert readily acknowledges, Israel's declared goal for Operation Cast Lead has not been attained. Hamas, though it is hurting, is proving each day anew that it has not been deterred from firing into Israel and is still capable of threatening Israeli civilians deep inside the country, albeit much less frequently since ground forces entered the Strip a week ago.
And there are many hurdles yet to overcome before Israel can be confident that a new, credible mechanism at the Gaza-Egypt border will prevent Hamas rearming.
Livni is said to favor a unilateral halt to the operation, binding Israel to no international commitments and, theoretically, leaving it free to resume military activities at its discretion.
Her most senior leadership colleagues regard this stance as impractical, arguing that Israel will not enjoy even the constrained international support and legitimacy it currently retains, and noting again that the limited goals for this operation remain too far from fulfilled to halt it now.
Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are thus understood to believe that the operation must continue, in parallel to the diplomatic track.
All eyes are therefore now on Cairo, where Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was over the weekend, where Hamas representatives have been holding talks, and to where Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, is set to return this week.
Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit disingenuously claimed on Saturday that the arms flowing into Gaza were reaching the Strip from the sea rather than through the vast network of tunnels beneath the Philadelphi Corridor - an assessment that underlines Israeli skepticism about a drastic improvement in smuggling prevention unless a credible monitoring mechanism can be found.
But Egypt resists the humiliating notion of foreign forces deploying on its territory to help do the job. And international forces are, in any case, likely to flee their positions in the event of violent confrontation - confrontation that would be inevitable as soon as Hamas tried to rebuild the tunnel operations.
The IDF this weekend continued to gradually reduce Hamas's strength - with notable successes such as the killing of Amir Mansi, the commander of the Hamas rocket launching program in the Gaza City area - while doing its best to minimize soldiers' vulnerability inside the Strip.
The Israeli leadership spent the weekend again hesitating over whether to expand the ground offensive, with the dilemma it has been facing for days still unresolved: The government would much rather avoid the heightened dangers of a drastically escalated ground operation.
But Hamas, however badly it may be hurting, will resist a cease-fire on Israeli terms so long as it does not believe that a drastically escalated ground operation is about to begin.On Saturday, Israel dropped leaflets over Gaza warning that the enlarged offensive was imminent. But Hamas is unlikely to simply take Israel's word for it.