UN resolution on Gaza hampered by issues important to U.S.: Cessation of hostilities and aid monitors

Palestinians search for casualties at the site of Israeli strikes on houses in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip. File
| Photo Credit: Reuters

The Security Council’s adoption of a new United Nations (UN) resolution to spur desperately needed aid to Gaza has been bogged down by two issues important to the United States: a reference to a cessation of hostilities and putting the UN in charge of inspecting trucks to ensure they are actually carrying humanitarian goods.

A vote on the Arab-sponsored resolution, first postponed from December 18, was pushed back again until December 20 as Council members continued intense negotiations to avoid another veto by the United States.

Also read: Israel faces Gaza ceasefire calls, U.S. vows more arms

“We’re still working through the modalities of the resolution,” U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said on December 19 afternoon when the vote was still set for 5 p.m. “It’s important for us that the rest of the world understand what’s at stake here and what Hamas did on the 7th of October and how Israel has a right to defend itself against those threats.” It was cancelled as the U.S. asked for more time and is now scheduled to take place after an open council briefing followed by closed consultations on the UN political mission in Afghanistan on December 20 morning.

The draft resolution on the table on Dec. 18 morning called for an “urgent and sustainable cessation of hostilities,” but this language was watered down in a new draft circulated early Dec. 19.

It now “calls for the urgent suspension of hostilities to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access, and for urgent steps towards a sustainable cessation of hostilities.” The United States in the past has opposed language on a cessation of hostilities, and diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private said this remains an issue for the Americans.

The resolution also calls for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to establish a mechanism for monitoring aid deliveries to Gaza. The diplomats said this is also an issue because it bypasses the current Israeli inspection of aid entering the territory.

The U.S. on December 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.

In its first unified action on November 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 United States has repeatedly called for condemnation of Hamas’ October 7 surprise attacks into southern Israel, and recognition of Israel’s right to self-defence, which have not been included in any of the resolutions that have been adopted – or the latest draft before the council.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said during a briefing with ambassadors on Dec. 19 that Israel is “ready for another humanitarian pause and additional humanitarian aid in order to enable the release of hostages.” But Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh of the United Arab Emirates, the Arab representative on the 15-member council, said on Dec. 19 a new resolution had to go “a little bit further” than the November 15 resolution.

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.

Nearly 20,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry since Israel declared war on Hamas following its surprise attacks on October 7 that killed about 1,200 people — mostly civilians. The militants 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 UN estimates.

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