The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Vote on Competing Draft Resolutions*
Today (16 October) at 6 pm EST, 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. One draft was authored by Russia, and the other was put forward by Brazil. The Russian draft in blue calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, while the Brazilian draft calls for “humanitarian pauses” to allow unhindered humanitarian access. Russia has proposed two amendments to the Brazilian text.
In accordance with rule 32 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure, the Security Council will vote first on the draft submitted by Russia since “draft resolutions shall have precedence in the order of their submission”. Then, in line with rule 33, which says that amendments “shall have precedence in the order named over all principal motions and draft resolutions”, the Council will vote on the Russian amendments to the Brazilian draft. Finally, it will vote on the draft submitted by Brazil.
Although Council members seem to agree on the necessity of alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, sharp divisions remain among members on important aspects of the current escalation, its causes, and what role the Security Council should play in response.
If either of the two texts is adopted, it would mark the first Security Council resolution on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” since resolution 2334, which was adopted in December 2016 with 14 votes in favour and one abstention by the US.
Today’s vote will be the first time Council members vote on a draft resolution on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” since the failure of two competing draft resolutions on the Palestinian protests along the Gaza fence in 2018. A draft presented by then-Council member Kuwait (S/2018/516) received ten affirmative votes and four abstentions (Ethiopia, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK) but was vetoed by the US. A competing US draft, which had initially been proposed as an extensive amendment to the Kuwaiti draft and was later put in blue as a separate draft resolution (S/2018/520), received 11 abstentions, three negative votes, and an affirmative vote by the US.
On 7 October, Hamas, the Palestinian armed group and de facto authority in Gaza, launched a large-scale attack against Israel, firing thousands of rockets and killing and capturing Israeli soldiers and civilians in several towns in southern Israel. Members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) also participated in the attack, which Hamas said was “in response to the continued Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people and violations at the Al-Aqsa mosque”. According to figures provided by Israeli authorities cited by OCHA, the Hamas-led attack has resulted in the killing of at least 1,300 Israeli and foreign nationals and the wounding of more than 3,700 others. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have so far notified the families of 155 Israelis that are being held in the Gaza Strip.
Since the attacks, the IDF has carried out extensive airstrikes on the Gaza Strip. Figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA indicate that more than 2,600 Palestinians have been killed and 9,600 wounded in connection with the airstrikes while approximately 1,000 people are missing, presumably trapped under the rubble. On 9 October, the Israeli authorities ordered “a full siege” of the Gaza Strip, stopping the provision of power, food, gas, and water to Gaza. (While Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005, the territory has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade for over 16 years.)
Against the backdrop of an imminent IDF ground operation in the Gaza Strip, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric said on 13 October that at midnight on 12 October, local time, the IDF informed UN officials working in Gaza “that the entire population of Gaza north of Wadi Gaza should relocate to southern Gaza within the next 24 hours”, adding that the UN appealed for the order to be rescinded. In a 13 October statement, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths said that the order “defies the rules of war and basic humanity” and that forcing civilians to move, “without even a pause in the fighting and without humanitarian support, is dangerous and outrageous”. Humanitarian and human rights organisations have also called on Israel to rescind the order.
Exchanges of fire across the Blue Line have intensified in the past few days and have resulted in civilians, including a journalist, being killed on both sides of the line. (The Blue Line is a withdrawal line set by the UN in 2000 to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon. While not representing an international border, it acts in practice as a boundary between Lebanon and Israel in the absence of an agreed border between the two states.) On 15 October, a rocket hit the headquarters of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). No casualties were reported in connection with the incident.
Minutes before the start of the 13 October meeting, Russia circulated a draft resolution on the situation in Gaza and Israel, apparently placing it directly under silence procedure until noon on the following day. Although several members requested additional time to discuss the text and the US apparently broke silence, Russia put its text in blue unchanged in the afternoon of 14 October and requested that Brazil (October’s Council President) schedule a vote on the draft resolution this afternoon (16 October).
The Russian draft text calls for “an immediate, durable and fully respected humanitarian ceasefire”, the secure release of all hostages, the unimpeded provision of humanitarian assistance—including food, fuel, and medical treatment—and the creation of conditions for the safe evacuation of civilians in need. While the draft does not explicitly mention Hamas, it “[s]trongly condemns all violence and hostilities directed against civilians and all acts of terrorism”.
Russia has characterised the draft as strictly “humanitarian and not political”. At the same time, introducing the initiative to the press after the 13 October consultations, the Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, said that the “responsibility for the looming war in the Middle East” largely lies with the US for having sidelined the Palestinian question and for “imposing an economic peace with Israel on the Palestinians and other Arab countries”. He also accused Western countries of “blatant double standards” in their response to this escalation compared with their response to the crises in Syria and Ukraine.
It seems that during the 13 October consultations, some members asked Brazil, in its capacity as Council president, to coordinate with the other members and lead the negotiations on a separate Council outcome on the crisis, in an apparent attempt to reduce the perceived politicisation some members associated with the Russian initiative and to increase the chances of the Council adopting an outcome. That evening, Brazil circulated the first draft of its resolution to Council members.
The initial draft text condemned the “terrorist attacks by Hamas”, all violence against civilians and “acts of terrorism”, as well as the “taking of civilian hostages”, calling for their “immediate and unconditional release”. It urged the Israeli authorities to “immediately rescind” the 13 October evacuation order and demanded an end to “measures that result in the deprivation of civilians of objects indispensable to their survival, including electricity, water, fuel, food and medical supplies”. This draft also called for “an immediate ceasefire” and demanded that all parties allow unhindered humanitarian access and for the “establishment of humanitarian pauses that enable humanitarian corridors”.
Comments on the Brazilian draft were invited until the late afternoon of 14 October. Arguing that both the Brazilian and the Russian drafts contained positive elements, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) apparently shared with Council members language on several issues that it perceived as representing a middle ground. These issues apparently included a rejection of Hamas’ 7 October attacks, the need to respect international humanitarian law, the need for humanitarian access and a humanitarian ceasefire, the release of hostages, and the importance of preventing regional spillover of the crisis. It appears that some members engaged positively with the UAE’s bridging proposal and provided further comments.
Around midnight on 14 October, Brazil circulated a revised version of its draft, inviting comments until 1 pm the following day, a deadline later extended to 3 pm. In the evening of 15 October, Brazil circulated a second revised draft and placed it under silence procedure until 11 pm. France, the UAE, and the UK apparently broke silence. After further amendments, Brazil placed a third draft in blue this morning and scheduled a vote on both its and the Russian draft for today at 6 pm.
Compared to its first version, the Brazilian draft currently in blue contains a stronger condemnation of the 7 October events, “[u]nequivocally reject[ing] and condemn[ing] the heinous terrorist attacks by Hamas” and the taking of civilian hostages. It seems that a request from the UAE to not use the word “terrorist” when referring to the 7 October attacks was not accommodated by Brazil.
The draft resolution in blue features operative language urging all parties to “fully comply” with their obligations under international law, including in relation to the protection of civilians, which was initially proposed as a less robust preambular paragraph. The draft text in blue also emphasises the importance of preventing regional spillover of the conflict.
A significant departure from the initial version of the Brazilian draft is that it no longer calls “for an immediate ceasefire”. The draft in blue calls for “humanitarian pauses” to allow humanitarian access, whereas the initial draft contained stronger language demanding that all parties promptly allow humanitarian access. It also “encourages” establishing humanitarian corridors and “[s]tresses the importance of a humanitarian notification mechanism to protect UN facilities and all humanitarian sites, and to ensure the movement of aid convoys”.
Another notable difference is that while the first Brazilian draft urged the “Israeli authorities to immediately rescind” the 13 October evacuation order, the draft currently in blue “[u]rges the immediate rescission” of that order, without referring to Israel. At the same time, it appears that requests from France and the UK to further scale back language on the order, to call instead on all parties to ensure the safe movement of civilians, were not heeded. Further, although it seems that these members requested including language on Israel’s right to self-defence, no such language appears in the draft in blue.
At the time of writing, it was unclear whether either of the two drafts would be adopted. It is unlikely that the US will be able to support a resolution that does not explicitly condemn the 7 October attacks as acts of terrorism perpetrated by Hamas. Apparently, the US did not engage meaningfully in the negotiations on both drafts, prioritising instead bilateral and shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East. This appears to be consistent with the view that the US has expressed in the past that the UN is not “the most practical or useful forum” for discussing issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Following the 7 October attacks, the Biden administration reaffirmed the US’ “unwavering” support for Israel, including through “surging additional military assistance”. In remarks to the press delivered before the 8 October consultations, the Alternate Permanent Representative of the US to the UN, Robert A. Wood, stressed that the US expected all other Council members to “strongly condemn” Hamas’ attacks as “heinous acts of terrorism”, while the Permanent Representative of Israel to the UN, Gilad Erdan, highlighted his full coordination with his US counterpart, including regarding messages on the attacks from the Security Council. The fact that the Russian draft calls for an immediate and “durable” humanitarian ceasefire may represent a further issue for the US, which has so far not called for any such measure.
During the negotiations on the Brazilian draft, Russia apparently indicated on 15 October that it could not support this text which it saw as “political”. It seems that Russia argued that its own draft, not containing any “political” language such as mentions of Hamas in connection with the 7 October attacks, and focusing exclusively on humanitarian issues, represented the much-needed Council response to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
After Brazil’s draft was put in blue, Russia apparently tabled two amendments. The first is to add a paragraph calling for “an immediate, durable and fully respected humanitarian ceasefire” which is taken directly from Russia’s own draft in blue. The second would add another operative paragraph “unequivocally” condemning “indiscriminate attacks” against civilians and civilian objects in Gaza and condemning the imposition of “the blockade of the Gaza Strip” depriving civilians “of means indispensable for their survival, in violation of international humanitarian law”.
*Post-script (17 October, 11:45 am EST): Shortly prior to the vote, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) requested Brazil (October’s Council President) to suspend the meeting to allow for further deliberations among Council members in closed consultations. During the consultations, while members apparently agreed to continue working on the Brazilian draft, it seems that Russia asked for the vote on its own draft to take place as scheduled. When the meeting resumed, members voted on the Russian draft resolution. The draft failed to be adopted because it did not garner the requisite votes. It received five votes in favour (China, Gabon, Mozambique, Russia, and the UAE), four votes against (France, Japan, the UK, and the US), and six members abstained (Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, Ghana, Malta, and Switzerland ). (A draft resolution on substantive matters is adopted if it receives nine or more affirmative votes and is not vetoed.)
**Post-script (18 October, 2 pm EST): On 18 October, Council members voted on the two amendments proposed by Russia to Brazil’s draft resolution. The first amendment, condemning “indiscriminate attacks against civilians” and civilian objects in the Gaza Strip, was revised before the vote to also include a reference to the 17 October strike on the Al Ahli hospital in Gaza. The amendment failed to be adopted because it did not garner the required votes. It received six votes in favour (Brazil, China, Gabon, Mozambique, Russia, and the UAE), one vote against (the US), and eight members abstained (Albania, Ecuador, France, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, and the UK). The Council then voted on the Russian amendment which would have added a paragraph calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. This amendment, too, failed to be adopted because of a lack of requisite votes. It received seven votes in favour (Brazil, China, Gabon, Mozambique, Russia, Switzerland, and the UAE), one vote against (the US), and seven members abstained (Albania, Ecuador, France, Ghana, Japan, Malta, and the UK).
Finally, members voted on the draft resolution authored by Brazil. The draft contained some changes as a result of further negotiations. Compared to the draft that was put in blue by Brazil on 16 October, this draft “call[ed] for the rescission” of the 13 October evacuation order, whereas it previously “urge[d]” the order’s “immediate rescission”. Preambular language encouraging “efforts aiming at a cessation of hostilities” was added to the draft, among other revisions. The draft failed to be adopted owing to a veto cast by the US. Twelve members voted in favour of the draft resolution (Albania, Brazil, China, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland, and the UAE), while two members abstained (Russia and the UK).
Following the vote, the Security Council held an emergency briefing on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. The meeting was called by Russia and the UAE, later joined by China, after the 17 October strike on the Al Ahli hospital in Gaza. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths briefed.