The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Vote on Competing Draft Resolutions*
This afternoon (25 October), the Security Council is expected to vote on two draft resolutions on the recent escalation of violence in Israel and Gaza and the ensuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. (For background, see our 7, 12, 16, and 23 October What’s in Blue stories.) One draft was authored by the US, and the other was put forward by Russia. At the time of writing, it seems unlikely that either of the draft resolutions will be adopted.
This will be the second time in ten days that the Council considers competing texts on the crisis, following last week’s failure of two draft resolutions addressing the escalation. A Russian-proposed draft text (S/2023/772) failed to be adopted on 16 October because it did not garner the requisite votes, while a Brazilian draft text (S/2023/773) was vetoed by the US on 18 October. The Russian draft called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, while the Brazilian draft called for “humanitarian pauses” to allow unhindered humanitarian access.
While members largely agree on the importance of the Council addressing the crisis, attempts to bridge the sharp divisions among members on important aspects of the current escalation have been unsuccessful.
On Saturday (21 October), the US circulated the text of a third draft resolution on the situation in Israel and Gaza, inviting comments by Sunday morning (22 October), a deadline which was later extended to 5 pm. A revised draft was circulated late on Sunday and put under silence procedure until Monday morning (23 October). It seems that China, Malta, Russia, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) broke silence. After further negotiations, the US put its draft in blue on Monday evening. While the US initially asked to schedule a vote for yesterday morning (24 October), the vote was later rescheduled to this afternoon.
During the Council’s quarterly open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, which was held yesterday (24 October), the Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, said that the failure to incorporate a demand for a ceasefire in a Council product could be interpreted as Security Council “support for Israel’s plans to start [a] ground operation in Gaza”. He added that Russia would not be able to support the US draft resolution, given the absence of language calling for “an immediate and unconditional ceasefire” in the text. Nebenzia then informed Council members that Russia had prepared an alternative text building on elements of the two failed draft resolutions as well as the US text, and requested Brazil (October Council’s president) to schedule a vote on its text immediately after the vote on the US text. In the afternoon, Russia circulated its draft resolution to Council members and put it in blue shortly after.
US Draft Resolution
The US draft in blue “[u]nequivocally rejects and condemns” the 7 October “heinous terrorist attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups” as well as the “taking and killing of hostages, murder, torture, rape, [and] sexual violence”, and demands the “immediate and unconditional release of all remaining hostages”.
A significant departure from the initial version of the US draft resolution is that it no longer features language reaffirming “Israel’s inherent right of individual or collective self-defense as reflected in Article 51 of the Charter”. This language was apparently unacceptable to several Council members, which maintain that the right to self-defence as articulated in Article 51 of the UN Charter applies to armed attacks carried out by states—not by non-state entities—while others question its applicability to situations of occupation. It also seems that during the negotiations, the UAE argued that this provision could serve as a justification for unrestrained Israeli action in Gaza. The draft text in blue no longer mentions Article 51 nor does it reference Israel in this respect, but rather “[r]eaffirms the inherent right of all States to individual and collective self-defense”. It further “reaffirms that in responding to terrorist attacks, Member States must fully comply with all their obligations under international law”.
Unlike the Russian draft resolution that failed to be adopted on 16 October and the new Russian text currently in blue, the US draft resolution does not call for a ceasefire, a measure that the US currently opposes. At the same time, in response to requests by several members during the negotiations, language was added to the US text calling for “all measures necessary, such as humanitarian pauses, to allow the full, rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access” and for advancing steps such as “the establishment of humanitarian corridors and other initiatives for the sustainable delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians”. Yesterday (24 October), the US made a change to its draft in blue, which now calls for “all measures specifically to include humanitarian pauses”. This change was apparently made due to pressure from many Council members maintaining that a humanitarian pause is necessary. The US text in blue also “[u]nderscores the importance of coordination and deconfliction to protect all humanitarian sites”.
In contrast with the Brazilian draft that was vetoed by the US on 18 October and the Russian text currently in blue, the US draft resolution does not call for the rescission of the 13 October order by Israeli authorities to the population of Gaza north of Wadi Gaza to relocate to southern Gaza. However, in an apparent concession to members stressing the importance of addressing the order, the US added to its draft resolution language reaffirming “that any movement of people must be voluntary, safe, and consistent with international law”.
Several references to international law were also added to the US draft resolution following requests from some members. For instance, the draft text in blue contains language on “respecting and protecting civilians and taking constant care to spare civilian objects, including such objects critical to the delivery of essential services” and urging “all parties to fully respect and comply with obligations under international law”.
While a provision “demanding the immediate cessation by Hezbollah and other armed-groups of all attacks” remains in the US text in blue, language deciding that “Iran must cease the export” of arms and materiel to “armed militias and terrorist groups threatening peace and security across the region”, which was present in the first version of the US text, was removed. Instead, the draft resolution in blue calls on states “to take practical steps to prevent the export of arms and materiel to armed militias and terrorist groups operating in Gaza, including Hamas”.
Russian Draft Resolution
Unlike the three previous draft resolutions on the crisis, the Russian text contains a determination that “the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip constitutes a threat to peace and security in the region”. The US draft text “reaffirm[s] that terrorism in all forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security” and says that the Council is determined to combat “threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts” by all means, “in accordance with the Charter” and other international law obligations.
The draft resolution proposed by Russia calls for “an immediate, durable and fully respected humanitarian ceasefire”, noting that such a measure “could play a vital role to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance in order to help save civilian lives”. It also calls for measures such as humanitarian pauses and the establishment of humanitarian corridors and “[s]tresses the importance of a humanitarian notification mechanism”.
The Russian draft text “[u]nequivocally rejects and condemns” the 7 October “heinous attacks by Hamas” and the taking of civilian hostages, calling for their immediate and unconditional release. It also “unequivocally condemns indiscriminate attacks against civilians as well as against civilian objects in the Gaza Strip resulting in civilian casualties”. (This language is taken directly from an amendment to the Brazilian draft that Russia had proposed ahead of the 18 October vote. The amendment failed to be included in the Brazilian draft because it did not garner the requisite votes.)
The Russian draft resolution further “rejects the actions to impose the blockade of the Gaza Strip depriving [the] civilian population of means indispensable for their survival” and “[u]rges the immediate rescission” of the 13 October evacuation order.
Unlike its previous draft resolution, the current Russian text in blue contains several references to international law. For instance, it includes language urging all parties to “fully comply with their obligations under international law”, including in relation to the conduct of hostilities and the protection of civilians. The Russian draft text does not contain language on self-defence. This is likely to prove a red line for the US, which, after casting a veto on the Brazilian draft on 18 October, said, that it was “disappointed” that the text did not mention “Israel’s right of self-defence”.
General Assembly Developments
Following the 18 October Council failure to adopt the draft resolution proposed by Brazil, the Office of the President of the General Assembly (PGA) received three letters requesting the resumption of the Tenth Emergency Special Session (ESS) of the General Assembly on “Illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory”. On 23 October, the Office of the PGA announced that the ESS would resume tomorrow (26 October). It seems that Jordan has tabled a draft resolution to be voted on at the ESS. The draft text calls for an immediate ceasefire and unhindered humanitarian access. It also calls for the rescission of the 13 October evacuation order and “[f]irmly rejects any attempts at forced transfer of the Palestinian civilian population”.
* Post-script (25 October, 5:30 pm EST): On 25 October, Council members voted on the draft resolutions authored by the US and Russia. China and Russia vetoed the US draft, which the United Arab Emirates (UAE) also voted against. Ten members voted in favour of the draft resolution (Albania, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the UK, and the US), while two members abstained (Brazil and Mozambique). The Russian draft failed to be adopted because it did not garner the requisite votes. It received four votes in favour (China, Gabon, Russia, and the UAE), two votes against (the UK and the US), while the remaining nine members abstained (Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, France, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, and Switzerland). (A draft resolution on substantive matters is adopted if it receives nine or more affirmative votes and is not vetoed.)
Following the votes, Ambassador Vanessa Frazier (Malta) announced that in the coming days the Council’s ten elected members (E10) will work on a new draft resolution. She stressed that “as elected members of this Council we also represent the rest of the international community, and we have a duty and an obligation to act”.