The US vetoes an Arab-backed UN resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza

Feb 20, 2024, 7:00 PM

Palestinian crowds struggle to buy bread from a bakery in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024....

Palestinian crowds struggle to buy bread from a bakery in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024. International aid agencies say Gaza is suffering from shortages of food, medicine and other basic supplies as a result of the war between Israel and Hamas. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

(AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States on Tuesday vetoed an Arab-backed and widely supported U.N. resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war in the embattled Gaza Strip, saying it would interfere with negotiations on a deal to free hostages abducted in Israel.

The vote in the 15-member Security Council was 13-1 with the United Kingdom abstaining, reflecting the strong support from countries around the globe for ending the war, which started when Hamas militants invaded southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking 250 others hostage. Since then, more than 29,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s military offensive, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which says the vast majority were women and children.

It was the third U.S. veto of a Security Council resolution demanding a cease-fire in Gaza and came a day after the United States circulated a rival resolution that would support a temporary cease-fire linked to the release of all hostages.

Virtually every council member — including the United States — expressed concern at the impending catastrophe in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah, where some 1.5 million Palestinians have sought refuge, if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu goes ahead with his plan to evacuate civilians and move Israel’s military offensive to the area bordering Egypt, where Israel says Hamas fighters are hiding.

Before the vote, Algeria’s U.N. Ambassador Amar Bendjama, the Arab representative on the council, said: “A vote in favor of this draft resolution is a support to the Palestinians right to life. Conversely, voting against it implies an endorsement of the brutal violence and collective punishment inflicted against them.”

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield countered by saying the United States understands the desire for urgent action but believes the resolution would “negatively impact” sensitive negotiations on a hostage deal and a pause in fighting for at least six weeks. If that happens, “we can take the time to build a more enduring peace,” she said.

The proposed U.S. resolution, she said, “would do what this text does not — pressure Hamas to take the hostage deal that is on the table and help secure a pause that allows humanitarian assistance to reach Palestinian civilians in desperate need.”

She told reporters the Arab draft did not link the release of the hostages to a cease-fire, which would give Hamas a halt to fighting without requiring it to take any action. That would mean “that the fighting would have continued because without the hostage releases we know that the fighting is going to continue,” she said.

Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan said the word cease-fire is used in the Security Council, the General Assembly and by U.N. officials “as if it is a silver bullet, a magical solution to all of the region’s problems.”

He called that “an absurd notion,” warning that a cease-fire in Gaza would enable Hamas to rearm and regroup and “their next attempted genocide against Israelis will only be a question of when, not if.”

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, shot back that the “message given today to Israel with this veto is that it can continue to get away with murder.”

He warned that more babies will be killed and orphaned, more children will die of hunger, cold and disease, more families will be threatened with further forced displacement, and Gaza’s entire 2.3 million population will be left without food, water, medicine and shelter.

And in a sharply critical message to the United States, Israel’s closest ally, Mansour said: “It means that human lives that could have been saved are instead being forsaken to Israel’s genocidal war machine, deliberately, knowingly, by those who oppose a cease-fire.”

What happens next remains to be seen.

The 22-nation Arab Group could take its resolution to the U.N. General Assembly, which includes all 193 U.N. member nations, where it is virtually certain to be approved. But unlike Security Council resolutions, assembly resolutions are not legally binding.

The Arab-backed resolution would have demanded an immediate humanitarian cease-fire to be respected by all parties, which implies an end to the war.

By contrast, the U.S. draft resolution would support a temporary cease-fire “as soon as practicable, based on the formula of all hostages being released,” and call for “lifting all barriers to the provision of humanitarian assistance at scale.”

It is the first time the U.S. has used the word “cease-fire,” as opposed to cessation of hostilities.

The Arab draft would also have demanded the immediate release of all hostages, rejected the forced displacement of Palestinian civilians and called for unhindered humanitarian access throughout Gaza.

Without naming either party, it would have condemned “all acts of terrorism” and reiterated the council’s “unwavering commitment” to a two-state solution with two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace.

In measures sure to anger Israel — and reinforce differences and tensions between U.S. President Joe Biden and Israel’s Netanyahu — the U.S. draft resolution reiterates the same unwavering commitment to a two-state solution, which the Israeli leader opposes.

Biden has repeatedly called on Israel to protect Palestinian civilians, and the draft resolution says Israel’s planned major ground offensive in Rafah “should not proceed under current circumstances.”

In another criticism directed at Israel, the U.S. draft “condemns calls by government ministers for the resettlement of Gaza and rejects an attempt at demographic or territorial change in Gaza that would violate international law.”

Thomas-Greenfield said the United States was not setting a deadline for a vote on its proposed resolution

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused the United States of “duplicitous and hypocritical calls” for the council to wait for diplomacy to produce results on a hostage deal.

“It could not yield any results because the real goal of Washington is not to achieve peace in the Middle East, not to protect civilians, but rather to advance their geopolitical agenda, demanding at any cost for their closest Middle East ally to be shielded,” Nebenzia told the council, claiming that the U.S. has given “an effective license for Israel to kill Palestinians.”

While this was the third U.S. veto of a Security Council resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire, the council has adopted two resolutions on Gaza where the U.S. abstained.

Its first resolution, on Nov. 15, called for humanitarian pauses to address the escalating crisis for Palestinian civilians. In late November, a seven-day pause led to the release of 120 hostages held by Hamas in exchange for Israel’s release of 200 Palestinian prisoners.

On Dec. 22, the council adopted a watered-down resolution calling for immediately speeding aid deliveries to desperate civilians in Gaza, but without the original plea for an “urgent suspension of hostilities” between Israel and Hamas.

It did call for “creating the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities.” The steps were not defined, but diplomats said it was the council’s first reference to stopping fighting. Because of ongoing fighting and no new humanitarian pause, little aid has gotten into Gaza.

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The US vetoes an Arab-backed UN resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza