The U.S. vetoes an Arab-backed U.N. resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire

Riyad Mansour, Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations, speaks during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

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 more than four-month war, which started when Hamas militants invaded southern Israel, 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 in Gaza linked to the release of all hostages and call for the lifting of all restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Virtually every council member — including the United States — expressed serious 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 from the city 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: “This resolution stands for truth and humanity standing against the advocates for murder and hatred.”

“A vote in favor of this draft resolution is a support to the Palestinians right to life,” he said. “Conversely, voting against it implies an endorsement of the brutal violence and collective punishment inflicted against them.”

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the United States understands the council’s desire for urgent action but believes the resolution would “negatively impact” sensitive negotiations on a hostage deal and 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, Thomas-Greenfield 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.”

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.

Thomas-Greenfield told the council the United States “will work in earnest in negotiating” on its proposed resolution, leaving time for all council members to comment, “rather than impose an arbitrary deadline for the vote.”

The defeated 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 underscore the Security Council’s support for 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, called for unhindered humanitarian access throughout Gaza, and reiterated council demands that Israel and Hamas “scrupulously comply” with international law, especially the protection of civilians.

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.”

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.

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.”

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 “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses” in Gaza to address the escalating crisis for Palestinian civilians during Israel’s aerial and ground attacks.

On Dec. 22, the council adopted a watered-down resolution calling for immediately speeding aid deliveries to hungry and 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 are not defined, but diplomats said it was the council’s first reference to stopping fighting.