Australia abstains from UN resolution calling for truce in Gaza, prompting criticism at home

Oct 28, 2023

The Guardian

“We are deeply disappointed Australia didn’t join the majority of the world in calling for what the people of Gaza desperately need” – Nasser Mashni, APAN president.

By Jordyn Beazley

Representative explains resolution ‘did not recognise terror group Hamas as perpetrator of 7 October attack’

Australia has abstained from casting a vote in a UN resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian truce in Gaza, arguing it was “incomplete” because it did not mention Hamas as the perpetrator of the 7 October attack.

On Friday, the United Nations general assembly overwhelmingly called for an “immediate, durable and sustainable humanitarian truce” between Israel and Hamas and demanded unhindered aid access to the besieged Gaza Strip.

The motion, drafted by Jordan, is not binding but carries political weight, with 120 nations voting in favour and only 14 – including the US and Israel – voting no. Meanwhile, 45 countries – including Australia, the UK, Germany, India and Canada – abstained from voting.

James Larsen, Australia’s representative to the United Nations, told the assembly that Australia agreed with the aims of the resolution and repeated Australia’s calls for a humanitarian pause to allow food, water and medicine to reach Gazans.

“We agree with the central proposition, that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire and human suffering is widespread and unacceptable,” he said.

But, Larsen said, Australia abstained from voting with “disappointment” because the resolution as drafted was “incomplete” because it did not name Hamas.

“The resolution did not recognise terror group Hamas as the perpetrator of the 7 October attack,” he said. “And Australia again explicitly calls for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages.”

The US also took issue with Hamas not being named in the resolution.

“It is outrageous that this resolution fails to name the perpetrators of the October 7th terrorist attacks: Hamas. Hamas. It is outrageous,” said the United States ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. “Another key word missing in this resolution is: hostage.”

The resolution did call for the “immediate and unconditional release” of all civilians illegally held captive and demanded their safety and humane treatment, and condemned attacks on both Palestinian and Israeli civilians.

Australia’s decision to abstain has drawn fierce criticism. The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, wrote on X (formerly Twitter): “Labor’s failure to vote with most of the world for a ceasefire is unacceptable.

“Labor needs to work towards peace, not war, in Gaza and the Middle East.”

The former Australian of the year and human rights advocate Craig Forster said Australia’s decision to abstain was “deeply, deeply sad”.

“News overnight that Australia abstained from a United Nations vote on the protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations is deplorable and deeply, deeply sad,” he said. “Commitment to international human rights and humanitarian law by Australia should be a given.”

The president of the Australian Palestinian Network, Nasser Mashni, also expressed dismay, saying the situation in Gaza is “catastrophic”.

“We are deeply disappointed Australia didn’t join the majority of the world in calling for what the people of Gaza desperately need,” he told Guardian Australia.

But Alex Ryvchin, co-chief executive officer of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said the UN should be calling for Hamas to surrender and the immediate release of the 222 Israeli hostages.

“Hamas has used truces in the past to replenish its arsenal. Every effort must be made to avoid civilian casualties in the ensuing war but the delusion that peace for Palestinians and Israelis is possible while Hamas is in power have been dispelled,’ he said.

“Palestinians deserve peace and safety and I deeply hope that the complete destruction of Hamas can finally put Israelis and Palestinians on the path to mutual recognition and peace.”

On Wednesday Australia’s foreign minister, Penny Wong, called for “humanitarian pauses” in the Israel-Hamas war to allow essential supplies to “reach people in desperate need”.

“There has been access in recent days but nowhere near enough,” Wong said.

The UN resolution demands essential supplies be allowed into the Gaza Strip and humanitarian workers have sustained access. It also stressed the need “to urgently establish a mechanism to ensure the protection of the Palestinian civilian population”.

Larsen told the general assembly Australia believes Israel’s right to exist can be affirmed without denying the aspiration of Palestinian people for statehood.

“We can affirm Israel’s right to defend itself, while also saying the way it does so matters,’ he said. “It matters for innocent civilians, who should not pay for horrors perpetrated by Hamas.

“And it matters for Israel’s ongoing security, which would face grave threats if conflict were to spill over across the region.”

Another UN vote attempting to condemn Hamas by name, and demanding an immediate release of hostages, was passed by 88 to 55, with Australia’s support, but failed to win the required two-thirds majority.

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