The UN Security Council on Thursday again delayed a vote on a watered-down resolution to deliver desperately needed aid to Gaza – a revision backed by the United States, while other countries support a stronger text that would include the now eliminated call for the urgent suspension of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. The revised draft resolution was discussed behind closed doors for over an hour by council members not long after it was circulated. Because there were significant changes, many said they needed to consult their capitals before a vote, which is now expected Friday.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters after the consultations that the United States backs the new text, and if it is put to a vote the U.S. will support it. The circulation of the new draft culminated a week and a half of high-level negotiations that at times involved US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Arab and Western counterparts. In a sign of intense US efforts, President Joe Biden said Wednesday that diplomats at the U.N. were engaged in negotiations on “a resolution that we may be able to agree to.” The vote, initially scheduled for Monday, has been delayed every day since then.
Thomas-Greenfield denied that the resolution is watered down, saying, “The draft resolution is a very strong resolution that is fully supported by the Arab group that provides them what they feel is needed to get humanitarian assistance on the ground.” But the key provision with teeth was eliminated – a call for “the urgent suspension of hostilities to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access, and for urgent steps towards a sustainable cessation of hostilities.” Instead, it calls “for urgent steps to immediately allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access, and also for creating the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities.”
The steps are not defined, but diplomats said if adopted this would mark the council’s first reference to a cessation of hostilities. On a key sticking point concerning aid deliveries, the new draft eliminates a previous request for the U.N. “to exclusively monitor all humanitarian relief consignments to Gaza provided through land, sea and air routes” by outside parties to confirm their humanitarian nature. It substitutes a request to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to appoint “a senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator with responsibility for facilitating, coordinating, monitoring and verifying” whether relief deliveries to Gaza that are not from the parties to the conflict are humanitarian goods. It asks the coordinator to establish a “mechanism” to expedite aid and demands that the parties to the conflict – Israel and Hamas – cooperate with the coordinator.
Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. negotiated the new draft with the United Arab Emirates, the Arab representative on the council that sponsored the resolution, and with Egypt, which borders Gaza. This bypassed the 13 other council members, several of whom objected to being left out, according to diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity because the consultations were private. The U.S. ambassador said the revised resolution “will support the priority that Egypt has in ensuring that we put a mechanism on the ground that will support humanitarian assistance.” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has said Gaza faces “a humanitarian catastrophe” and a total collapse of the humanitarian support system would lead to “a complete breakdown of public order and increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt.”
According to a report released Thursday by 23 U.N. and humanitarian agencies, Gaza’s entire 2.2 million population is in a food crisis or worse and 576,600 are at the “catastrophic” starvation level. With supplies to Gaza cut off except for a small trickle, the U.N. World Food Program has said 90% of the population is regularly going without food for a full day. Nearly 20,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, since the war started. During the Oct. 7 attack, Hamas militants killed about 1,200 people in Israel and took about 240 hostages back to Gaza.
Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, and its Health Ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths. Thousands more Palestinians lie buried under the rubble of Gaza, the U.N. estimates. Biden has warned that Israel is losing international support because of the “indiscriminate bombing” of Gaza, and U.S. officials have repeatedly expressed concern about the large number of Palestinian civilian deaths. This week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin pressed Israel to transition from high intensity operations to targeted operations aimed at killing Hamas leaders, destroying tunnels and rescuing hostages.
In another major change, the U.S.-backed draft resolution eliminates the condemnation of “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 resolution does demand the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages and reaffirms the obligations of the parties under international law, including protecting civilians and infrastructure critical for their survival.
It would also reiterate the Security Council’s “unwavering commitment to the vision of the two-state solution where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders,” and it would stress “the importance of unifying the Gaza Strip with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.” Security Council resolutions are important because they are legally binding, but in practice many parties choose to ignore the council’s requests for action. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, though they are a significant barometer of world opinion.
In its first unified action on Nov. 15, with the U.S. abstaining, the Security Council adopted a resolution calling for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses” in the fighting, unhindered aid deliveries to civilians and the unconditional release of all hostages. The U.S. on Dec. 8 vetoed a Security Council resolution, backed by almost all other council members and dozens of other nations, demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza. The 193-member General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a similar resolution on Dec. 12 by a vote of 153-10, with 23 abstentions.