Photo courtesy of BBC

The recent UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza from which the US, not surprisingly, abstained marks a crossroads in the history of Israel and the future of Palestine. The resolution was motivated, among other developments, by Israel’s massive military build up and its impending invasion of Rafah, a thin stretch of land by the Gaza-Egypt border where more than a million Palestinians, driven from their homes by the IDF’s ruthless attacks, lie huddled, uncertain of what may happen to them.

The resolution followed another resolution, proposed by the US, vetoed by China and Russia and criticised by much of the Global South, which denounced Hamas and placed more prominence on the return of Israeli hostages. Beijing and Moscow argued that it did not go far enough while Washington argued that China and Russia were “playing politics with the ceasefire” and conniving to “isolate the US internationally ahead of the interests of the Palestinians in Gaza.” The US itself had vetoed three resolutions before mostly on the basis that these “did not mention Israel’s right of self-defence.”

The latest resolution is important, in that sense, for four reasons. First, and most important, it indicates the US’s growing frustrations with the Israeli government. Since October last year the US has been valiantly – or pathetically, depending on how you see it – batting for its main ally in the Middle East, only to see that ally become more isolated on the world stage. The lack of a constructive response from Israel, which headed by the most right wing regime the country has seen since its founding, and the unwillingness to respond to and engage with its critics has only upended its relations with the West.

The US’s decision to abstain followed weeks and months of confrontations between Jerusalem and some of its staunchest Western allies, including the European Union. These confrontations have taken place in the backdrop of some of the most vocal demonstrations against the Israeli government in decades. These protests have been joined by outspoken Jewish critics of Israel as well. Such developments have shifted the narrative so much that it is no longer possible to equate criticisms of Israel with anti-semitism. The West, belatedly as it may be, has come to terms with this.

Second, the resolution reflects a turnaround in the liberal mainstream’s attitude to Israel and what it is doing in Gaza. The most belligerent, hawkish government Jerusalem has seen in decades may invoke its right to self-defence at every opportunity it gets but even the most passionate defenders of Israel are rethinking that stance and wondering whether it is in Israel’s interest to defend itself so aggressively, undermining the norms of international law. This is more or less the sentiment of the US Democratic Party’s most pro-Israel Senator, Chuck Schumer, who not only has advocated for elections in Israel but also questioned the tenability and feasibility of its military offensives.

To be sure, the likes of Schumer are not questioning Israel’s right to self-defence but they are wondering whether Israel’s interests can ever be served by a blind commitment to military action. That commitment has not helped its case. Israel had very few friends in the Global South before October 7; since October 7 it has lost quite a number of friends in the Global North too. The Israeli government’s rabid response to these developments, which amounts to badmouthing the slightest critique of Israel that Western governments, including the UK, put out, has only alienated and isolated it further.

Third, artists and intellectuals, even those critical of anti-semitism, have sounded the alarm of Israel’s disproportionate response to the October 7 attacks. The situation has changed so much that a Jewish director of a film about the Holocaust can get up on stage at the Oscars and decry the situation in Gaza and get a standing ovation. This is in stark contrast to the 1977 Oscars, where Vanessa Redgrave who won an Oscar for her role in Julia, an out and out anti-fascist and anti-Nazi film, was booed when she denounced “Zionist hoodlums” in her acceptance speech. The Jewish screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, by contrast, received a standing ovation when he criticised Redgrave in his speech.

Indeed, Hollywood’s shifting response to Israel and Palestine has been one of the more intriguing takeaways from the conflict in Gaza. During the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Hollywood rallied almost unconditionally around Israel. The most liberal and the most radical actors, directors and screenwriters spoke in its support, organising marches, protests, and funds. This is because it was possible, at that time, to view Israel as a beleaguered, besieged smaller power even when the US was rushing in millions of dollars of economic and military aid and even when its prime ministers were denying the rights of Palestinians and advocating for territorial expansion.

Such sentiments no longer hold today. In the 1960s the West’s sympathy for Israel more or less centred on the Holocaust. Today, even Holocaust survivors and their children are decrying what the Israeli government is doing, supposedly “in their name.” It goes without saying that very few in Hollywood are as dogmatically supportive of Israel and of whatever it does as it used to be. Jonathan Glazer’s speech at the Oscars provoked a rather puerile letter from certain Jewish figures in Hollywood but also compelled much support from far more authoritative Jewish artists, including Tony Kushner. No less than Steven Spielberg, the grand old man of Hollywood, issued a statement critical of both antisemitism and “the killing of innocent women and children in Gaza.”

Underlying all these developments is a fourth, in my view the most critical: that even in terms of military superiority, Israel has lost the plot. As Nilanthan Niruthan, director of the Centre for Law and Warfare in Colombo, pointed out four days after October 7, the Hamas attacks “demonstrated a major failure of intelligence, but more importantly, it displayed an even larger failure of imagination.” It showed that not even the most lavishly funded security installations can keep a discontented people and political and terrorist outfits speaking on their behalf at bay.

Israel’s response to this has been to ramp up its offensive in Gaza to force civilians into the most inhospitable surroundings and corners. That has only got it into a tight spot: a spectacular military failure followed by a spectacular moral failure. The US learnt what a combination of these failures would lead to in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Israel has not learnt that lesson or, if it has, has yet to indicate that it has.

The latest UNSC resolution is the most crucial crossroads in this conflict. As US political scientist Stephen Walt puts it, the implications for the US are only too clear. “Instead of focusing on whether pressure on Israel would work,” he points out, “the real question to ask is simply whether it is in America’s strategic or moral interest to be actively complicit in a vast and worsening humanitarian tragedy.” He concludes on a rather terse note. “Even if the United States cannot stop it, it doesn’t have to help make it worse.”