Russia and China veto US ceasefire resolution linked to Gaza hostage release

Washington’s proposal, which came in parallel to its mediation on the ground with Egypt and Qatar, received 11 votes in favor, 3 against and 1 abstention

On Friday at the U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield voted in favor of the resolution, while the representatives of Algeria and China beside her rejected it.
On Friday at the U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield voted in favor of the resolution, while the representatives of Algeria and China beside her rejected it.SARAH YENESEL (EFE)
María Antonia Sánchez-Vallejo

On Friday at the U.N. Security Council, Russia and China vetoed the long-awaited draft resolution for an “immediate and sustained ceasefire” in Gaza linked to the release of all hostages held by Hamas, which the United States had been negotiating for weeks within the body responsible for world peace and security. The defeated resolution represented the alternative to its third veto of a draft resolution for a humanitarian ceasefire at the end of February, as Washington was investing more in direct negotiations between the parties, which it is brokering along with Qatar and Egypt.

Washington’s text — the resolution’s sixth revision — obtained 11 votes in favor, 3 against (the vetoes of China and Russia and Algeria’s negative vote) and 1 abstention (Guyana). In addition to the vote’s predictable outcome, the speeches by the United States and Russia for and against the resolution, respectively, were the most significant aspect of the session, which was yet another Security Council fiasco. The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, mentioned Hamas so many times — the hostages still in its custody, its brutal attack of October 7, and the sexual violence that its militants perpetrated, according to Israel — that it seemed more like a plea against the terrorist organization than in favor of Gaza’s civilian population, the beneficiary, in theory, of this six-week-long immediate sustained ceasefire aimed at alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

In addition to calling for the support of all Council members for the resolution, because it would be “a historic mistake” not to pass it, in her brief speech before the vote the U.S. ambassador called on Israel to remove all barriers to the delivery of humanitarian aid and condemned any attempt to resettle the Gazan population, a veiled allusion to the massive displacement of civilians from the north to the south of the Gaza Strip as a result of Israel’s ongoing military offensive.

“We want to see an immediate and sustained ceasefire as part of a deal that leads to the release of all hostages being held by Hamas and other groups, and that will allow much more lifesaving humanitarian aid to get into Gaza (...). That’s why the United States, Egypt, and Qatar are working around the clock in the region to secure an immediate and sustained ceasefire as part of a deal that leads to the release of all hostages being held by Hamas and other groups — that will help us address the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We believe we’re close, we’re not there yet, unfortunately,” Thomas-Greenfield said. She emphasized that adopting the resolution would have put pressure on Hamas to accept the deal that is on the table. The diplomat did not refer to Israel’s theoretical obligation to abide by the resolution, which, like all Security Council resolutions, is binding.

Moscow calls it a “hypocritical” proposal

The reply of the Russian ambassador to the U.N., Vassili Nebenzia, could not have been harsher. His political speech underscored the Security Council’s existential division, which has been evident since the war in Ukraine began. Nebenzia called the U.S. resolution proposal a “hypocritical spectacle” after weeks of buying time. “This was some kind of an empty rhetorical exercise. The American product is exceedingly politicized, the sole purpose of which is to help to play to the voters, to throw them a bone in the form of some kind of a mention of a ceasefire in Gaza … and to ensure the impunity of Israel, whose crimes in the draft are not even assessed.”

Nebenzia added that “we cannot allow the Council to become an instrument of U.S. policy in the Middle East” because that would be favoring Israel. He asserted that the text was giving Israel the green light for its ground offensive against Rafah, at the southern tip of the Gaza Strip, where more than half of its 2.3 million inhabitants have taken refuge in makeshift tents to escape the fighting further north. “This would free the hands of Israel and it would result in all of Gaza and its entire population having to face destruction, devastation or expulsion,” Nebenzia told the meeting. Several non-permanent members of the Council have been working on an alternative resolution, which Nebenzia described as balanced.

The intervention of the two ambassadors was a political — not diplomatic — melee. After seeing her proposed resolution rejected, the U.S. ambassador lamented that Moscow had put “politics above progress” and pointed the finger at Russia and China for their veto, an old mechanism inherited from the 1945 U.N. constitution; numerous leaders, starting with the organization’s Secretary General, António Guterres, have called for reforming the mechanism.

Pressure on Israel

In its resolution, the U.S. raised the need for a ceasefire for the first time, in line with the gradual hardening of Washington’s policy toward Israel in recent weeks. On three previous occasions during the first five months of the war, the United States vetoed proposed humanitarian ceasefire resolutions because the mere mention of even a temporary cessation of hostilities was a red line for Israel, which believed that it would allow Hamas to regroup. Although Washington has been modulating its discourse — its support for Israel has led to several warnings for President Joe Biden in the Democratic primaries — it cannot let go completely, but it has increased pressure on its ally to allow more humanitarian aid and better protect civilians.

The U.S. mission to the U.N. arrived at Friday’s vote convinced that the text, the result of many rounds of consultations with Security Council members, could move forward, although it has always favored the direct ceasefire negotiations that it is mediating with Egypt and Qatar. Indeed, the draft resolution’s text endorsed those talks, unsuccessful so far, and emphasized that the six-week ceasefire period should be used to redouble diplomatic efforts toward “a lasting peace.”

On Thursday, during his sixth visit to the region since the Gaza war began, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the Qatar talks, which focus on a six-week ceasefire and the release of 40 Israeli hostages and hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, are still viable. The main stumbling block has been Hamas’s insistence that it will only release the hostages as part of a deal to end the war. For its part, Israel says it will only discuss a temporary ceasefire.

During the war, Washington has vetoed three draft resolutions, two of which called for an immediate ceasefire. Recently, the U.S. justified its veto on the grounds that such action by the Security Council could jeopardize talks in Cairo and Qatar. But the U.S. has also abstained twice, allowing the Council to pass resolutions on increasing aid, establishing humanitarian corridors, and calling for a prolonged pause in the fighting.

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