UN General Assembly passes Gaza cease-fire resolution after US veto in Security Council

The initiative, which is non-binding, has received more support than the one adopted in October, with 33 more countries voting in favor

Riyad Mansour
Palestinian United Nations Ambassador Riyad Mansour, right, speaks during a press conference ahead of a U.N. General Assembly vote on a resolution calling for a cease fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, at U.N. headquarters.Bebeto Matthews (AP)

The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to demand a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza in a strong demonstration of global support for ending the Israel-Hamas war. The vote — which comes days after the United States vetoed a resolution in the Security Council to the same effect — also shows the growing isolation of the U.S. and Israel.

For the second time since the Israel-Hamas war broke out in October, the veto in the Security Council — the highest body of the U.N. — pushed the vote to the U.N. General Assembly, which is of lower rank. While resolutions made by the Security Council are legally binding, resolutions in the General Assembly serve as a moral and political statement: a thermometer of the international community. No country has the right of veto in the 193-member world body, and only a two-thirds majority is required to adopt a resolution.

The vote was 153 in favor, 10 against and 23 abstentions. The United States and Israel were joined in opposing the resolution by eight countries — Austria, Czechia, Guatemala, Liberia, Micronesia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay.

The support for a cease-fire resolution was higher than for an Oct. 27 resolution that called for a “humanitarian truce” leading to a cessation of hostilities, where the vote was 120-14 with 45 abstentions. In other words, it was supported by 33 more countries. Countries that changed their votes on Tuesday included Croatia, which voted against the October resolution; Hungary, which went from voting against it to abstaining; and Canada and Australia, which switched from abstaining to supporting the resolution. Ukraine abstained both times.

Like last week’s frustrated Security Council vote, the vote on the resolution in the General Assembly was called by Egypt and Mauritania on behalf of Arab and Islamic nations. Its terms were identical to those of the resolution vetoed by the U.S. The text also calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages and for the warring parties to comply with international law, particularly with regard to the protection of civilians.

In October, Canada attempted to introduce an amendment to reject and condemn the October 7 Hamas attacks that triggered the war, but failed to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority. On Tuesday, the U.S. also proposed an amendment to the draft resolution, urging for a statement that the assembly “unequivocally rejects and condemns the heinous terrorist attacks by Hamas.” The amendment was rejected due to lack of support.

The General Assembly vote reflect the growing isolation of the United States as it refuses to join demands for a cease-fire. More than the United Nations or any other international organization, the United States is seen as the only entity capable of persuading Israel to accept a cease-fire as its closest ally and biggest supplier of weaponry.

In tougher language than usual, though, President Joe Biden warned before the vote that Israel was losing international support because of its “indiscriminate bombing” of Gaza.

“I think it will send a message to Washington and to others,” Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters before the vote. He said a demand from the United Nations, whether it’s the Security Council or the General Assembly, should be looked at as binding.

“And Israel has to abide by it, and those who are shielding and protecting Israel until now should also look at it this way, and therefore act accordingly,” Mansour said.

The resolution expresses “grave concern over the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population,” and it says Palestinians and Israelis must be protected in accordance with international humanitarian law.

The war has brought unprecedented death and destruction, with much of northern Gaza obliterated, more than 18,000 Palestinians killed according to the Hamas-run health ministry, 70% of them reportedly children and women, and over 80% of the population of 2.3 million pushed from their homes.

International support

The U.N. Secretary General António Guterres announced on Saturday, after the U.S. vetoed the Security Council resolution, that he would not let up in his efforts to ensure that the U.N. does everything possible to achieve a cease-fire in Gaza, a prospect that angers Israel and its main ally, the U.S., who believe that it would only benefit Hamas.

The resolution adopted by the General Assembly has the moral support of a large majority of the international community, but nothing more than that: political weight. The fact that this is the eighth attempt by the political bodies of the United Nations to pass a resolution to halt or end the war is seen as a sign of the organization’s impotence and ineffectiveness.

The emergency session came a day after 12 U.N. Security Council envoys visited the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing, the only place through which limited humanitarian aid and fuel supplies can enter Gaza. The United States did not send any representatives.

Palestinians had hoped the outcome of the vote would demonstrate broad global support for ending the war between Israel and Hamas, which has now entered its third month.

U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said Monday that the General Assembly’s messages “are also very important” and reflect world opinion.

In a pre-session appearance Tuesday, Mansour said he understood the anger and frustration of the Palestinian community: “The tragedy is so beyond comprehension so that if they are angry and frustrated, and they curse all of us — beginning with me — I understand, and they are right and we are wrong. Our duty is to try to save the lives of those who are still alive by having this resolution adopted and by forcing Israel to comply with it and those who are shielding Israel to comply with the global consensus calling for a cease-fire.”

After four failed attempts, the Security Council passed its first resolution after the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on November 15, calling for “urgent and extended humanitarian corridors” in Gaza to allow aid to reach the civilian population. On that occasion, the U.S., like the U.K. and Russia, abstained because the text did not condemn the Hamas attack. The British abstained for the same reason, while Russia abstained on the grounds that the resolution was not ambitious enough.

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