November 8, 2023
ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Munir Akram has stated that Islamabad has “taken the lead” in “defending and propagating the Palestinian position” as Israel continues its bombardment of the Gaza Strip following the surprise attack by Hamas on October 7.
“I think we have done so quite successfully in articulating the position of the Palestinians […] and we continue to be involved as a lead country among the Arab and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries to find ways of trying to bring this unfortunate and tragic war to an end. We will continue that effort,” he said in an interview with DawnNews English.
Hamas launched a surprise offensive on Israel on Oct 7, killing over 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping more than 200, according to Israeli officials. Since then, Israel has relentlessly bombarded Gaza and sent in ground troops in an assault that has killed more than 10,000 people, mostly women and children.
Mass protests have erupted across the world against the “collective punishment” punishment unleashed on Palestinians. While Western leaders have continued to pledge support for Israel’s actions, other nations have begun recalling their ambassadors and diplomats from Israel.
Asked about the UN’s “limited ability” to act on the ongoing crisis and the “frustrations” within the body, Akram said, “I think the sentiment within the UN is basically, across the board, everyone is in some measure or the other condemnatory of Israeli actions and the bombardment that is continuing.”
He noted that many Muslim and Arab countries had called Israel’s actions in Gaza a “genocide”.
“I think if one reads the Genocide Convention this would fit into a definition of genocide. So there is widespread concern about what the Israelis are doing.”
At the same time, Akram said the UN Security Council (UNSC) was “paralysed due to certain powers on the council who have prevented the call for a ceasefire”.
However, Akram said the UN General Assembly (UNGA) had acted and adopted a resolution calling for a ceasefire put forward by the Arab world and countries belonging to the OIC.
He said that the resolution had called for a humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities, called for humanitarian aid for Gaza and also opposed the Israeli effort to displace the Palestinians.
“What we are trying to do now is to press the UN secretary general and UN organisations to press for the implementation of this resolution. So, the UNGA has spoken even if the UNSC has been unable to speak.”
Akram said that even those countries which had not supported the resolution shared “our opinion in their conscience but their political positions are constrained by strategic and political relationships with Israel and its friends”.
He said that he had asked during a UN debate for countries to “examine their conscience”. “This is [a] genocide. And we must call it out and we must press Israel to stop its campaign of bombardment and military action against helpless Palestinian civilians.”
The ambassador said that if ultimately the UNSC failed to dispense its responsibility in the matter then it would have to be seen what the UNGA could do.
He said that UNGA had “residual powers in the maintenance of international peace and security, especially when the UNSC is unable to act”. He recalled the 1950 resolution called “Uniting for Peace”, saying that it had been used to establish a UN peacekeeping force.
“So the UNGA has powers. The question is how much support we can gather for a decisive enforcement action by the UNGA. We will try […] there are major powers who will oppose it but we will try to see what we can get through the UNGA even if the UNSC is unable to.”
When asked to give an idea of what actions the UNGA could take, Akram said that these could include an oil export embargo, termination of trade relations, termination of civil aviation and several other actions to “pressurise and penalise” Israel for its actions in Gaza.
“It is a question of whether the OIC and Arab countries can agree on a set of actions and then we will bring these actions to the UNGA and see if we can get them [passed] through it. This is the diplomatic campaign that will have to be mounted in order to get some of these measures adopted by the UNGA.”
Questioned about the “lack of urgency” from the Arab world while other countries had recalled their ambassadors to Israel, Akram said, “I think some of the Arab countries have also done so […] so I think it is going to be a kind of international move and I don’t think we should distinguish between who’s done what.”
He said the “decisive power” in the matter lay with the US, pointing out that it had eventually come around to calling for a humanitarian pause in Gaza.
He expressed the hope that this pressure would result in containing Israel and bringing the conflict to an end.
Asked about a ceasefire, Akram, “Eventually this thing has to stop, it cannot continue as such.”
The UN envoy saw pressure on Israel mounting down the line, adding that Tel Aviv would have to weigh the cost of its military campaign in Gaza.
“If there was any reasonable government in Tel Aviv, they would see a cost-benefit of this war and bring it to an end. Unfortunately, the Israeli leaders at this time, are extremists and this is the problem.”