Arabs push UN vote on immediate Gaza humanitarian ceasefire despite surefire US veto

Move comes as Washington circulates rival Security Council resolution supporting temporary truce linked to release of all hostages, lifting of all restrictions on delivery of aid

The UN Security Council meets about the situation in the Middle East at UN headquarters in New York on December 22, 2023. (Charly Ttriballeau/AFP)
The UN Security Council meets about the situation in the Middle East at UN headquarters in New York on December 22, 2023. (Charly Ttriballeau/AFP)

Arab nations are advancing a UN resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, knowing it will be vetoed by the United States but hoping to show broad global support for ending Israel’s war against Hamas.

The Security Council has scheduled a vote on the resolution at 10 a.m. local time in New York (5 p.m. in Israel) Tuesday.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield says the Biden administration will veto the Arab-backed resolution because it may interfere with ongoing US efforts to arrange a deal between the warring parties that would bring at least a six-week halt to hostilities and release all hostages taken during Hamas’s brutal October 7 massacres in southern Israel.

In a surprise move ahead of the vote, the United States on Monday circulated a rival UN Security Council resolution that would support a temporary ceasefire in Gaza linked to the release of all hostages, and call for the lifting of all restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian aid. Both of these actions “would help to create the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities,” the draft resolution obtained by The Associated Press says.

US deputy ambassador Robert Wood told several reporters Monday that the Arab-backed resolution is not “an effective mechanism for trying to do the three things that we want to see happen — which is get hostages out, more aid in, and a lengthy pause to this conflict.”

With the US draft, by contrast, “what we’re looking at is another possible option, and we’ll be discussing this with friends going forward,” Wood said. “I don’t think you can expect anything to happen tomorrow.”

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during the Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, December 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

A senior US official said later Monday that “We don’t believe in a rush to a vote.”

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of council discussions on the US draft, said, “We intend to engage in the coming days in intensive negotiation around it. … That’s why we’re not putting a timeline on a vote, but we do recognize the urgency of the situation.”

Arab nations, supported by many of the 193 UN member countries, have been demanding a cease-fire for months as Israel’s military offensive has intensified in response to the Hamas attack in which terrorists killed 1,200 people and took over 250 others hostage, mostly civilians.

The number of Palestinians killed has surpassed 29,000, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health authorities, though these figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 12,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Tunisia’s UN Ambassador Tarek Ladeb, this month’s chair of the 22-nation Arab Group, told UN reporters last Wednesday that a ceasefire is urgently needed.

He pointed to some 1.5 million Palestinians who sought safety in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah and face a “catastrophic scenario” if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu goes ahead with his announced plan to evacuate civilians from the city and move Israel’s military offensive to the area bordering Egypt where Israel says Hamas fighters are hiding. At least some of the 130 hostages remaining in Gaza are thought to be in the city, after two were rescued in daring special forces raid last week. Hamas leadership is also believed to be sheltering there.

Palestinians buy supplies at the market in Rafah, Gaza Strip, February 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

In addition to an immediate ceasefire, the Arab-backed draft resolution demands the immediate release of all hostages, rejects the forced displacement of Palestinian civilians, calls for unhindered humanitarian access throughout Gaza, and reiterates council demands that Israel and Hamas “scrupulously comply” with international law, especially the protection of civilians. Without naming either party, it condemns “all acts of terrorism”

In a tough message to Israel, the US draft resolution says Israel’s planned major ground offensive in Rafah “should not proceed under current circumstances.” And it warns that further displacement of civilians, “including potentially into neighboring countries,” a reference to Egypt, would have serious implications for regional peace and security.

Thomas-Greenfield, in a statement Sunday, explained that the United States has been working on a hostage deal for months. She said US President Joe Biden has had multiple calls over the last week with Netanyahu and the leaders of Egypt and Qatar to push the deal forward.

“Though gaps remain, the key elements are on the table,” she said, and the deal remains the best opportunity to free the hostages and have a sustained pause that would enable lifesaving aid to get to needy Palestinians.

The 15 Security Council members have been negotiating on the Arab-backed resolution for three weeks. Algeria, the Arab representative on the council, delayed a vote at US request while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was recently in the region, hoping to get a hostage deal. But Qatar said Saturday the talks “have not been progressing as expected.” And the Arab Group decided over the weekend that they had given the US enough time and put their resolution in final form for a vote.

What will happen after the US casts its veto remains to be seen. The Arab Group could take their resolution to the UN General Assembly, which includes all 193 UN member nations, where it is virtually certain to be approved. But unlike Security Council resolutions, assembly resolutions are not legally binding.

Riyad Mansour, Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, speaks during a United Nations General Assembly meeting about the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, at UN headquarters in New York City on November 28, 2023. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP)

The Security Council will then likely start discussing the much-lengthier US draft resolution, which would for the first time not only condemn Hamas’s October 7 onslaught but also its hostage-taking and killing, “murder, and sexual violence including rape.” Some council members blocked the condemnation of Hamas in two previous council resolutions on Gaza.

The US draft doesn’t name Israel, but in a clear reference the draft “condemns calls by government ministers for the resettlement of Gaza and rejects any attempt at demographic or territorial change in Gaza that would violate international law.”

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