In a significant development at the special United Nations General Assembly session on Palestine, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, stirred controversy by challenging Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas militants in Gaza. Nebenzya’s remarks, delivered on Wednesday, questioned the legitimacy of Israel’s actions, drawing attention to the ongoing conflict in the region.
Nebenzya accused Western nations of “hypocrisy” over their stance on Palestinian civilian casualties, particularly in light of their criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He emphasized that the West consistently asserts Israel’s right to self-defense, even though, as he claimed, Israel does not possess such authority as an occupying power.
The Russian ambassador referred to a 2004 advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), based in The Hague. This opinion argues that Israel cannot invoke the UN Charter’s article on the right to self-defense when responding to threats from occupied territory. The crux of this debate lies in whether Gaza should be considered occupied territory by Israel.
While Israel contends that it withdrew from Gaza in 2005, both the ICJ and several international organizations assert that Israel has maintained control over Palestinian territories, including the Gaza Strip, since the Six-Day War in 1967.
Nebenzya made a strong case for a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian problem based on well-known UN Security Council resolutions. He stated that Israel’s security could only be fully guaranteed through this approach and criticized the loss of innocent civilian lives in the conflict. “We don’t deny Israel’s right to fight terror, but fight terrorists and not civilians,” Nebenzya emphasized.
The Russian ambassador also criticized the United States and its allies for their perceived silence regarding the civilian death toll from Israel’s actions in Gaza. Russia has called for a ceasefire agreement between Israel and the authorities in Gaza, led by Hamas, and urged both parties to engage in diplomatic efforts to resolve the long-standing conflict.
Notably, Russia has maintained relations with both Israel and Hamas, even hosting a delegation from the Palestinian group last week. This move underscores Russia’s role in international diplomacy to facilitate a peaceful resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.