Security Council set for Gaza ceasefire vote after delay to seek text US won’t veto

Draft resolution slated for Tuesday vote says civilians in Strip don’t have sufficient access to services ‘essential for survival,’ calls for Hamas to immediately release hostages

A woman sits by food cooking on a fire as children play nearby outside one of the tents housing Palestinians displaced by the conflict in Gaza between Israel and Palestinian terror group Hamas movement, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 18, 2023. (Mahmud Hams / AFP)
A woman sits by food cooking on a fire as children play nearby outside one of the tents housing Palestinians displaced by the conflict in Gaza between Israel and Palestinian terror group Hamas movement, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 18, 2023. (Mahmud Hams / AFP)

UNITED NATIONS — The UN Security Council delayed until Tuesday morning a vote on an Arab-sponsored resolution calling for a halt to hostilities in Gaza that would allow for urgently needed aid deliveries to reach a massive number of civilians as members intensified negotiations to try to avoid another veto by the United States.

The council said Monday’s vote, which had been scheduled for 5 p.m., would not take place, and diplomats said negotiations were taking place to get the United States, Israel’s closest ally, to abstain or vote “yes” on the resolution.

The draft on the table Monday morning called for an “urgent and sustainable cessation of hostilities” for humanitarian access to deliver aid. But this language is expected to be watered down to a “suspension” of hostilities or something possibly weaker to satisfy the Americans, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private.

The US vetoed a Security Council resolution on December 8 that was backed by almost all council members and dozens of other nations demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. The 193-member General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a similar resolution on December 12 by a vote of 153-10, with 23 abstentions.

The importance of a Security Council resolution is that it is legally binding, but in practice, many parties choose to ignore the council’s requests for action. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, but they are a significant barometer of world opinion.

A key issue is how to implement and sustain a desperately needed aid operation. Human Rights Watch accused Israel on Monday of deliberately starving Gaza’s population by blocking the delivery of water, food, and fuel, a method of warfare that it described as a war crime. Israel responded by describing HRW as having “no moral basis to talk about what’s going on in Gaza” as the rights group did not condemn the massacre by the Hamas terror group that provoked the current war.

The United Nations’ food agency reported on December 14 that 56 percent of Gaza’s households were experiencing “severe levels of hunger,” up from 38% two weeks earlier.

People stand on the edge of a crater caused by an Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 19, 2023. (Mahmud HAMS / AFP)

The draft resolution that was being considered by the 15 council members on Monday recognizes that civilians in Gaza don’t have access to sufficient food, water, sanitation, electricity, telecommunications, and medical services “essential for their survival.” Also, it would express the council’s “strong concern for the disproportionate effect that the conflict is having on the lives and well-being of children, women, and other civilians in vulnerable situations.”

Israel launched its war on Hamas following the terror group’s murderous onslaught on southern Israel on October 7, in which 3,000 terrorists slaughtered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, amid acts of brutality including rapes, and took another approximately 240 people hostage, more than 100 of whom it is still holding captive.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 19,000 people in the Strip have been killed in the ensuing operation. The Gaza death toll cannot be independently verified and also includes those killed in failed Palestinian rocket launches. The IDF says it has killed over 7,000 Hamas operatives in Gaza.

Israel says it makes every effort to avoid civilian casualties. But it points to the Hamas practice of locating military infrastructure — rocket launchers, weapons stores, command centers — next to, inside and underneath residential buildings, hospitals, schools and mosques.

The proposed Security Council resolution reiterates its demand that all parties comply with international humanitarian law, especially protecting civilians and the infrastructure critical for their survival including hospitals, schools, places of worship, and UN facilities.

The draft, obtained by The Associated Press, demands the parties to the conflict — Hamas and Israel — fulfill their obligations under international humanitarian law and enable “the immediate, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance at scale directly to the Palestinian civilian population throughout the Gaza Strip.”

It “calls for an urgent and sustainable cessation of hostilities to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access” in Gaza and also “firmly condemns all violations of international humanitarian law, including all indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian objects, all violence and hostilities against civilians, and all acts of terrorism.”

The draft also demands the immediate and unconditional release of all Hamas-held hostages.

Palestinians wait in line for food distribution in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, December 13, 2023. (Fatima Shbair/AP)

The draft confirms its “unwavering commitment to the vision of the two-state solution,” and stresses “the importance of unifying the Gaza Strip with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.”

The draft is being negotiated by the United Arab Emirates, which is the Arab representative on the Security Council, and requests that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres establish an expeditious mechanism to monitor all humanitarian shipments to Gaza by land, sea, and air.

In a letter sent on Monday to the president of the Security Council, seen by AFP, Guterres mentions three options for implementing a November 15 resolution calling for humanitarian “pauses” of a few days to allow aid into the Palestinian territory.

Noting that “the conditions for the effective delivery of humanitarian aid no longer exist,” the secretary general’s first option is to reinforce the presence of UN humanitarian personnel on the ground to enable a “more robust United Nations presence on the ground.”

Secondly, he suggests a mission of the UN or third-party civilian observers.

And finally, to monitor the observance of “humanitarian pauses/cease-fires, United Nations unarmed military observers could be deployed,” he wrote, noting that all three options would require “clear mandates” from the Security Council.

Humanitarian aid trucks enter through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel into the Gaza Strip on December 18, 2023. (Hatem Ali/AP)

Since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, the Security Council has been under fire, having only managed to adopt a text calling for “humanitarian pauses” in mid-November.

Five other draft resolutions were rejected, two of them due to US vetoes.

US President Joe Biden has since exhibited growing impatience with Israel, warning that its ally risks losing the support of the international community for its “indiscriminate” bombardment of the Gaza Strip, while at same time Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, on a visit to Israel this week, assured Israeli officials that the US would not dictate the “timelines or terms” of the war.

The Biden administration declined to say how it viewed the latest Security Council resolution text.

“We are always trying to get to a place where there’s language that we agree with, that other Security Council members agree with,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.

“But right now we’re in the middle of the negotiation process. I wouldn’t want to speculate.”

Israel has already insisted that a long-term ceasefire is unacceptable, as it would leave Hamas still in charge of Gaza and still holding the hostages it abducted from Israel.

Most Popular
read more: