The United States on Friday (8 Dec) vetoed a proposed Security Council demand for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza.
This move diplomatically isolated the United States as it stands in support of Israel.
The resolution, initiated by the United Arab Emirates, saw a majority support, with 13 members voting in favour. However, the United States exercised its veto power, while Britain chose to abstain from the vote.
This veto came against the backdrop of a dire warning by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who invoked the seldom-used Article 99 of the UN charter. Guterres cautioned the 15-member Security Council of an impending “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza, stating that the two-month-long conflict posed a “severe risk of collapse” to the humanitarian support network in the region.
Deputy UAE U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Abushahab questioned the council’s inability to unite behind a ceasefire, emphasizing the dire message this sends to Palestinians and civilians worldwide in similar crises.
The U.S. and Israel’s opposition to the ceasefire stems from their belief that it would predominantly benefit Hamas. Washington has instead been advocating for pauses in the hostilities to protect civilians and facilitate the release of hostages taken by Hamas during the lethal attack on Israel on 7 October.
Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Robert Wood, criticized the draft resolution as “rushed” and “divorced from reality,” arguing that it would not effectively change the situation on the ground. Wood also expressed the U.S.’s reluctance to support a ceasefire that he believes would lay the groundwork for future conflicts.
Britain’s abstention was influenced by the absence of any condemnation of Hamas in the resolution. British U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward highlighted the necessity for Israel to counter Hamas while adhering to international humanitarian law.
Palestinian U.N. envoy Riyad Mansour expressed dismay at the vote’s outcome, emphasizing the sacredness and value of Palestinian lives at stake.
Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan, in a post-vote statement, outlined that a ceasefire would only be feasible with the return of all hostages and the dismantling of Hamas.
Amid these tensions, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged a discrepancy between Israel’s stated intention to protect civilians and the realities unfolding on the ground.
The U.S. has stated its preference to rely on its diplomatic efforts over Security Council actions to secure the release of more hostages and urge Israel to enhance civilian protection in Gaza.
This stance comes in the wake of Israel’s response to the Hamas attack, which, according to Israel, resulted in 1,200 deaths. Gaza’s Health Ministry reports over 17,480 fatalities due to the Israeli assault.
The Israeli military campaign in Gaza has been comprehensive, involving air bombardments, a siege, and a ground offensive. This has resulted in the displacement of the majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents.
UN Secretary-General Guterres, addressing the council, lamented the lack of effective civilian protection in Gaza. He described the plight of Gazans as akin to being forced to move like “human pinballs” without access to basic survival necessities, emphasizing that no place in Gaza is currently safe.
A brief respite in the conflict occurred with a seven-day pause that ended on 1 December, during which Hamas released some hostages, and there was an increase in much-needed humanitarian aid to Gaza.
The U.S. Mission to the UN, following the vote on a proposed UN resolution, took to Twitter to explain its reasons for not supporting the measure.
The tweet stated, “Despite a lack of appropriate consultation by the resolution’s authors, the United States engaged in good faith on the Security Council resolution put forward today. Unfortunately, nearly all of our recommendations were ignored. And the result of this rushed process was an imbalanced resolution that would not move the needle forward, on the ground, in any concrete way.”
Despite a lack of appropriate consultation by the resolution’s authors, the United States engaged in good faith on the Security Council resolution put forward today.
Unfortunately, nearly all of our recommendations were ignored. And the result of this rushed process was an…
— U.S. Mission to the UN (@USUN) December 9, 2023
However, reactions on social media indicated skepticism towards the U.S. Mission’s explanation.
One user criticized the U.S. stance, saying, “Stop wasting your time trying to justify this vote. We know why you voted against a ceasefire.”
Another accused the U.S. of being complicit in violence, stating, “Not enough Palestinian civilians have been murdered yet, eh? Still too bloodthirsty to vote on a ceasefire? You are disgraceful. History will not remember you and your support of genocide fondly.”
A third comment labeled the justification as weak, adding, “Lame justification. Genociding another population is not self-defense.”
Amidst this controversy, the Biden administration has continued to demonstrate strong support for Israel in its conflict with Hamas in Gaza.
On 20 October, the White House requested an additional $106 billion in supplemental national security funding from Congress. Notably, this request included a provision to waive congressional notifications for future arms sales to Israel up to US$3.5 billion, effectively granting the executive branch unprecedented authority to approve these sales without Congressional oversight.
This move sparked significant concern among arms control policy experts and high-ranking Democrats.
Additionally, the request sought to waive the annual cap on transfers to the U.S. stockpile in Israel. In response to these developments, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced a US$111 billion bill, not only to support Israel’s operations in Gaza but also to provide military aid to Ukraine and other nations. This bill included the controversial Israel-specific waivers.
However, a cloture vote on December 6 failed to pass, with opposition from both Republicans and Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders. This failed vote reflects the contentious nature of the provision to waive Congressional approval for arms sales, a process typically subjected to public notification procedures enabling journalists, watchdog groups, and arms control experts to monitor these transactions.
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