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U.S. declines to vote on UN resolution to send aid to Gaza

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

And for more on that U.N. resolution, we're joined now by Matt Duss, who has been following the developments. He's vice president at the Center for International Policy. Previously, he advised independent Senator Bernie Sanders on foreign policy. Welcome to the show.

MATT DUSS: Thank you very much.

RASCOE: Can you give us a thumbnail of what this resolution might accomplish?

DUSS: Well, the resolution hopefully will to the increase in the amount of humanitarian aid getting into Gaza to deal with the very severe humanitarian crisis that's occurring in Gaza right now. It supports the creation of a special coordinator for humanitarian aid into Gaza to increase the amount of aid. It is, according to a lot of critics, including many of the countries who supported the initial draft of the resolution, and U.N. Secretary-General Guterres, it's not sufficient for the severity of the crisis, but I do think it - we can say it does improve the situation slightly.

RASCOE: Can you talk to me about that criticism, and do you feel that it was watered down to get the U.S. on board? And what does that watering down mean for the situation on the ground?

DUSS: Yeah. I mean, it was watered down in a number of ways. First off, because the overwhelming majority of countries in the United Nations support an immediate cease-fire. The U.S. vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution to that effect recently, and the initial draft of this resolution created a mechanism by which the U.N. would be the main inspector of aid going into Gaza, which hopefully would vastly increase the amount of aid that could get in. Israel has insisted on different mechanisms. The United States has continued to support Israel in that. So that is part of why this resolution had to be rewritten to avoid a U.S. veto.

RASCOE: Is this a moment that exposes the strengths and weaknesses of an organization like the U.N.?

DUSS: I think that's right. Russia, as one of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, has a veto over any U.N. Security Council resolutions and has used that veto, or the threat of that veto, to frustrate the U.N. from moving on an issue, such as opposition to its invasion of Ukraine, to express the will of the global community. Russia was exposed and isolated because of that. Now we have a situation in which the international community is overwhelmingly opposed to Israel's ongoing assault in Gaza, overwhelmingly supportive of a cease-fire. And the United States is the country that is using its veto, or the threat of its veto, and now similarly isolated. But it also shows that, unfortunately, the U.N. is incapable in these moments of really exerting its will.

RASCOE: Is there any practical way to address this conflict that comes up in these situations that involve very powerful members of the U.N.?

DUSS: No. Unless and until there is real reform of the U.N. system such that it recognizes and lifts up the power of the General Assembly and, you know, removes the veto ability of a few key members, such as the United States, it's hard to see how that changes. And the irony here is that the Biden administration and President Biden himself have spoken, I think, quite admirably, and actually taken steps to try and shore up and build up and empower the international system, the U.N., other multilateral organizations. They recognize that setting up these organizations and supporting them is important for global security and for the United States' own security. But this is an area in which the Biden administration, its own policy, is showing the weakness of these organizations.

RASCOE: Why was getting the U.S. on board, even if they just abstained, so fraught and so difficult?

DUSS: Well, because the Biden administration is strongly, and I would say pretty unconditionally, supporting Israel's war on Gaza. I mean, let's recognize Israel certainly has the right and responsibility to respond to the - you know, the atrocity on October 7. But what we are seeing in Gaza is not that. I mean, this is an absolute catastrophe.

RASCOE: In terms of what comes after the war between Israel and Hamas, is the U.N. capable of playing a meaningful role, given how tough it was to reach this resolution?

DUSS: Yeah. I think if the United States is more willing to engage with and support the U.N.'s role - because let's understand the U.N. sponsors and supports a whole range of humanitarian and educational efforts in the occupied Palestinian territories - and there are multiple passed U.N. resolutions expressing the will of the international community with regard to the creation of a Palestinian state, a two state solution - and I think if the U.S. is more willing to engage in that to get to the outcome that they have said that they want, there is certainly a role for the U.N.

RASCOE: That's Matt Duss. He is vice president of the Center for International Policy. Thank you so much for joining us.

DUSS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.