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Peace and Conflict

UNSC passes ceasefire resolution, US abstains | Update 26 March 2024

UNSC passes ceasefire resolution, US abstains via BICom

What’s happened: The US abstained yesterday rather than use its veto on a non-binding UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and a release of the hostages.

  • The text of the resolution which passed with the council’s 14 other votes in favour – including from the UK –  “demands an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan respected by all parties leading to a lasting sustainable ceasefire.”
  • It also “emphasises the urgent need to expand the flow of humanitarian assistance to and reinforce the protection of civilians in the entire Gaza Strip and reiterates its demand for the lifting of all barriers to the provision of humanitarian assistance at scale.”
  • Elsewhere, the resolution “demands the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.”
  • Following the vote, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement: “Certain key edits were ignored, including our request to add a condemnation of Hamas. And we did not agree with everything in this resolution. For that reason, we were unfortunately not able to vote yes. However, as I said before, we fully support some of the critical objectives in this nonbinding resolution. And we believe it was important for the Council to speak out and make clear that any ceasefire must come with the release of all hostages.”
  • In a statement, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Office called the abstention “a clear retreat from the consistent US position in the Security Council since the beginning of the war.” “Today’s resolution,” it added, “gives Hamas hope that international pressure will force Israel to accept a ceasefire without the release of our hostages, thus harming both the war effort and the effort to release the hostages.”
  • Netanyahu also cancelled the scheduled departure of Strategic Affairs Minister Dermer and National Security Council Director Hanegbi, who were set to follow Defence Minister Gallant to the US for talks with US counterparts, centred on Israel’s promised ground operation in Rafah.
  • In response to that, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said, “The prime minister’s office seems to be indicating in public statements that we somehow changed here. We haven’t. And we get to decide what our policy is. It seems like the prime minister’s office is choosing to create a perception of daylight here, when they don’t need to do that.”
  • Another US official called Netanyahu’s decision “sudden”, “excessive”, and as “stemming from Israel’s domestic political tensions.”
  • Minister Benny Gantz said, “the right thing would be for the delegation to go. It would have been good were the prime minister to go in person to meet with Biden.”
  • Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) welcomed the passing of the resolution, the PA’s UN envoy Riyad Mansour including in his speech to the Assembly a reference to “our Hamas brothers.”
  • In parallel, contrary to yesterday’s reports that negotiators in Doha might be inching towards a hostage release deal, Hamas announced a negative response to the US bridging proposal which would have seen between 700 and 800 Palestinian security prisoners, including around 100 life-term prisoners, released in exchange for 40 hostages among women, children, and the sick and elderly being held in Gaza.
  • Hamas replied that its position remained unchanged and that only a full ceasefire and IDF withdrawal from the Gaza Strip would be enough to secure a deal.
  • Despite ongoing IDF operations, several rockets were launched out of northern Gaza yesterday. The first barrage of 14 targeted Ashkelon and Ashdod. The Iron Dome then intercepted three rockets that were fired at Sderot last night.

Context: Yesterday’s resolution marks the first time since October 7th that the US has declined to exercise its power to veto a UNSC resolution calling for an end to the war in Gaza.

  • It comes days after a softer-worded US-initiated resolution was vetoed by China and Russia.
  • The US abstention is being interpreted as the latest and most significant indicator of the increasing tension between the Biden Administration and the Netanyahu government over the conduct of the war and post-war planning.
  • Despite Netanyahu's approach of calling off meetings with the US, Defence Minister Gallant endorses an even closer working relationship with the US administration. 
  • Foreign Secretary Cameron responded to the UNSC vote on Twitter/X, saying that the international community now needed to work towards “removing Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel”, “Hamas no longer being in charge of Gaza”, and the formation of a new Palestinian Government as a step towards a two state solution.
  • Israeli analysts have reflected the difficulty of achieving these objectives without continuing to pursue military operations in Gaza, including in Rafah.
  • US criticisms, which have become increasingly public in recent months, centre chiefly on the supply of aid to the Gaza Strip and a prospective operation in Rafah it has called “a red line”.
  • Israel, for its part, has continued to insist that any aid blockages are not on its side, that sufficient supplies are reaching the Strip, and that an operation in Rafah is essential to the decisive defeat of Hamas which has been supported as a war aim by its allies.
  • On Monday, COGAT announced that over 200 aid trucks were inspected and transferred via Kerem Shalom and Nitzana.
  • The Israeli position is also that maintaining military pressure on Hamas’s leadership and remaining battalions is the best way to secure a release of the remaining 130 hostages, and that seeking to curtail or limit its operations in Gaza plays into Hamas’s hands. It will point to the timing of Hamas’s latest refusal of a deal, coming after the UNSC vote, as further evidence of this.
  • During his meeting with US National Security Advisor Sullivan yesterday, Gallant said “we have no moral right to stop the war in Gaza until we return all the hostages home. The lack of a decisive victory in Gaza may bring us closer to war in the north.”
  • Sullivan said of their meeting: “I conveyed President Biden’s iron-clad support for Israel’s security and defence against all threats, including Iran. I welcomed Yoav’s commitment to take additional steps to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”

Looking ahead: Defence Minister Gallant remains in the US despite Netanyahu’s cancelling of Dermer and Hanegbi’s trip. He is due to meet for talks with his US counterpart Secretary Austin today.

  • Despite Hamas's apparent intransigence, there is still hope that the hostage talks in Qatar will bear fruit. 

via BICom