The principal difference between the competing resolutions was Washington’s call for “all measures, specifically to include humanitarian pauses,” to allow aid to flow into Gaza — a position it rejected as recently as last week and with no specific mention of ongoing Israeli airstrikes — vs. Moscow’s call for a complete cease-fire. In an address to the council Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a pause should be “considered.”
The United States is in an increasingly minority position in rejecting a cease-fire, which is supported by the U.N. Secretary General, Arab states and much of the rest of the world. A majority of the 15-member council abstained on the Russian resolution for other reasons, rather than voting against it. They included Brazil, Ecuador, France, Japan, Ghana, Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland and Albania. Only the United States and Britain — both with council vetoes — voted no. Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates and Gabon voted to approve it.
Vasily Nebenzya, Russia’s U.N. representative, said that those who failed to support Moscow’s draft were “not brave enough to display strategic wisdom.”
The U.S. resolution, Nebenzya said, was designed “to serve the geopolitical interest of one Security Council member that is not only not able to stop the escalation, but de facto is giving a green light.” A cease-fire, he said, “doesn’t fall within their plans.”
China, which joined Russia’s veto, said the U.S. resolution did “not reflect the world’s strongest calls for a cease-fire and an end to the fighting” and was “tantamount to paving the way for a large-scale military action.”
The U.S. resolution, which won approval from many of the same members who abstained on Russia’s version, included several significant changes from the American position last week after “we solicited input, we listened, we engaged with all council members,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said. It was vetoed by Russia, China and the United Arab Emirates, with Mozambique and Brazil abstaining.
Thomas-Greenfield cast a veto last week on a previous text resolution, sponsored by Brazil, because, she said, it did not declare Israel’s right to defend itself. The resolution she introduced Wednesday reaffirmed “the inherent right of all States to individual and collective self-defense,” without mentioning Israel. In responding to terrorist attacks, it said, all states “must fully comply with all their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law, international refugee law, and international humanitarian law.”
In several paragraphs, the resolution urged “all parties to fully respect” those obligations, including protecting civilians “who are trying to get to safety, and civilian infrastructure.” Any movement of people, it said, “must be voluntary, safe and consistent with international law.” It also condemned “depraved acts of destruction carried out by Hamas,” including the use of “civilians as human shields.”
Those directives coincide with increasingly public statements by the Biden administration reminding Israel that it must abide by the international rules of war in any attacks on Gaza, and cautioning against the devastation of continued airstrikes and the likely high civilian toll of a planned ground invasion of the enclave.
Biden made the same points in a White House news conference Wednesday with visiting Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. “Hamas is hiding behind Palestinian civilians, and it’s despicable — and not surprisingly, cowardly as well,” Biden said. “This also puts an added burden on Israel while they go after Hamas. But that does not lessen the need for us to operate in line with the laws of war. Israel has to do everything in its power.”
Last weekend, the administration began to support calls for humanitarian pauses in the fighting — especially the Israeli airstrikes — to allow humanitarian aid waiting in Egypt just outside Gaza to enter and civilians stranded inside the besieged enclave to leave.
The resolution called for “all measures, specifically to include humanitarian pauses, to allow the full, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access, consistent with international humanitarian law” and to “facilitate the continuous, sufficient and unhindered provision of essential goods and services important to the well-being of civilians in Gaza, including especially water, electricity, fuel, food and medicine.”
With the exception of the Rafah crossing into Egypt at the enclave’s southern tip, Israel has long controlled all entrances and exits to Gaza, home to about 2.3 million Palestinians. In “normal” times, Gaza is dependent on outside aid, and more than 100 trucks per day carry assistance inside.
Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, Israel has shut off all of its access routes to Gaza, imposing what it has called a “siege” that has left those inside with dwindling supplies of food, medicine, fuel and water. There has been no electricity, except that of generators, for two weeks.
Speaking to reporters at the United Nations on Wednesday, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary General António Guterres, said that “unless fuel is allowed into Gaza immediately, UNRWA will be forced to halt operations tonight.” UNRWA is the U.N.’s Palestinian aid organization, which supplies most of the assistance into both Gaza and the West Bank.
The World Food Program, Dujarric said, estimates that the current supply of “essential food” is sufficient for about 12 more days, with available stocks in shops exhausted within the next five days. He said that the number of displaced Gazans totals about 1.4 million — more than half the population — including about 590,000 in UNRWA-designated shelters, primarily schools operated by the aid agency.
Both the U.S. and Russian resolutions condemned Hamas and called for the immediate release of its 200 Israeli and foreign hostages inside Gaza. Both also called for a long-term resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle in accordance with previous U.N. resolutions mandating a “two-state solution.”
The U.S. position on a cease-fire is likely to be further challenged Thursday, when Jordan — a close U.S. partner in the Middle East — has called for an emergency meeting of the General Assembly of all 193 U.N. member states to consider a joint Arab resolution calling for a cease-fire to be implemented immediately.
Like the others, this resolution demands full compliance with international law by all sides, facilitation of humanitarian assistance and the release of hostages. Unlike Security Council measures, General Assembly resolutions do not carry the power of international law, but they provide an opportunity for nations that are not council members to express their views. As of Wednesday, 88 nations had signed up to speak.