UN Security Council in intense negotiations on Gaza humanitarian resolution

Diplomats say draft text may be watered down from ‘lasting cessation’ to ‘suspension’ of hostilities to appease US and avoid another veto.

People mourn as they collect the bodies of Palestinians killed in an airstrike
Mourners collect the bodies of Palestinians killed in an air raid on December 18, 2023, in Khan Younis in southern Gaza [Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images]

Members of the United Nations Security Council are involved in intense negotiations over a draft resolution on the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza as they seek to funnel more aid to Palestinians and avoid another US veto.

The United States was working on Tuesday with countries on the council to resolve outstanding issues related to the draft resolution, the US Department of State said.

The resolution being worked on, the US said, would demand that Israel and Hamas allow aid into Gaza and set up UN monitoring of the humanitarian assistance delivered.

The vote, which had been expected to take place earlier on Tuesday, was already delayed by a day as council members sought to stave off another US veto and as Israel faces growing international pressure to change its tactics in the war against Hamas.

An initial draft text of the new resolution seen on Monday called for “an urgent and lasting cessation of hostilities to allow unimpeded access of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip”.

Diplomatic sources said this language has been watered down to an “urgent suspension of hostilities” and could be further weakened to satisfy Washington.

“The key sticking point, of course, we believe is the ‘cessation of hostilities’,” Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo said, reporting from the UN in New York.

“The United States and Israel say that any resolution that has those words in it is akin to a ceasefire, and they say that would only benefit Hamas, and so the US would reserve its veto power as it has done in the past. … We think they are trying to work out some sort of language there.”

On December 8, despite unprecedented pressure from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the US – Israel’s closest ally – blocked the adoption of a resolution calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, the latest in several US vetoes on draft resolutions relating to the war.

Last week, the 193-member UN General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a similar resolution, but unlike the Security Council’s, its resolutions are nonbinding.

Senior UN official Tor Wennesland said Israel’s steps to allow aid into Gaza until now have been “far short of what is needed”.

“The delivery of humanitarian aid in the [Gaza] Strip continues to face nearly insurmountable challenges,” said Wennesland, special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

“Limited [humanitarian] steps by Israel … are positive but fall far short of what is needed to address the human catastrophe on the ground.”

Aid distribution

A key issue is how to implement and sustain a desperately needed aid operation. Human Rights Watch accused Israel on Monday of deliberately starving Gaza’s population by blocking the delivery of water, food and fuel, a method of warfare that it described as a war crime.

The draft resolution recognises that civilians in Gaza do not have access to sufficient food, water, sanitation, electricity, telecommunications and medical services “essential for their survival”.

It demands the parties to the conflict – Hamas and Israel – fulfil their obligations under international humanitarian law and enable “the immediate, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance at scale directly to the Palestinian civilian population throughout the Gaza Strip”.

Elizondo noted that the draft resolution also “calls for the UN to monitor all of the aid distribution in Gaza”. That is something new, the Al Jazeera correspondent said. “Previous Security Council drafts never had that wording in it.”

The draft also reiterates calls for the protection of civilians and infrastructure critical for their survival, including hospitals, schools, places of worship and UN facilities. It demands the immediate and unconditional release of all captives held by Hamas.

Discussions around a new truce come as the US reiterates its support for Israel in its war.

Speaking alongside Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv on Monday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said US support for Israel was “unshakeable”.

But he added: “We will also continue to urge the protection of civilians during conflict and to increase the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza.”

Since the war began on October 7, Israel has killed more than 19,000 people in Gaza, according to Palestinian health authorities. Hamas’s attacks on southern Israel on October 7, which triggered the war, killed about 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies