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Editorial: People power has changed government policy on Gaza – now it must turn a UN vote into action

THE UN security council has voted, for the first time, for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Only the pressure of world opinion has forced this change. Western powers initially lined up to endorse Israel’s war.

One by one those endorsements have fallen away, as horror at flattened cities, assaults on hospitals and the systematic starvation of civilians by Israel swept the world.

By last month only two members of the UN security council still failed to support a ceasefire, Britain abstaining and the United States, with its veto, voting against.

Now it is different. Britain voted for today’s motion, which calls for an immediate ceasefire for the rest of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The United States abstained. There was no veto.

Britain has been pushed into this position, slowly but surely, by pressure on the streets. By an enormous mass movement for peace, mobilising hundreds of thousands of people week after week. 

The British establishment hates this movement. It has been slandered by the Prime Minister from the steps of No 10. It has been accused, ludicrously, of making central London a “no go area” on march weekends, though the giant demonstrations are so orderly arrests are proportionately lower than at music festivals.

One home secretary has tried to ban it, and was forced from office by her ill-advised bid to whip up a far-right countering force. Her successor has pleaded with protesters to go home. 

Unelected special advisers are wheeled out to demand more and harsher repression. Parliamentary procedure is upended, to spare the Labour leader blushes over his refusal to support a ceasefire. So spooked are our rulers they have decreed a new definition of extremism that encompasses all opposition to Britain’s current political system.

And yet the movement is winning, and the British government is forced to support in the UN something the leaders of both government and opposition have fought hard to avoid backing at home. 

On a world stage other pressures than people power apply. First Brussels, then London and now Washington have become alarmed at their loss of political authority internationally, warned by their diplomats that blanket support for Israel means global South countries will “never listen to them again.” 

An already tangible shift of Middle Eastern loyalties away from the US and towards China has accelerated. The inability of the US or its allies to stop Yemeni attacks on Israel-linked shipping, even with huge shows of force, has been humiliating.

But the pressure in the US has been domestic, too, with Joe Biden’s support hit hard in Democratic primaries, the president’s motorcade forced to reroute as sit-ins block roads and party chiefs seriously worried about what a mass stay-at-home by furious voters might mean for his looming showdown with Donald Trump.

The UN vote is historic. But it must be turned into action.

As China’s ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun says, “security council resolutions are binding.” Israel, as a UN member state, is obliged to comply. Other member states are obliged to work to enforce the ceasefire.

Our vote will mean little if Britain continues to supply arms. A commitment to stop doing so must be an immediate demand.

Israel is already seeking to punish the US, cancelling a diplomatic visit. Its diplomats here should feel the heat: told their government is expected to observe a ceasefire and will face consequences for failing to do so.

And the movement that brought us here must face down the threats of repression and keep marching. 

This Saturday sees another national march for Gaza. It should leave our politicians in no doubt that we want more than a vote cast the right way in New York: we want an end to all British complicity in Israel’s war, an end to that war itself and an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine.

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