The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Vote on a Draft Resolution*
This afternoon (15 November), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution on the escalation of violence in Gaza and Israel. The draft resolution in blue has a humanitarian focus and references child protection issues throughout the text. The draft resolution, which calls for urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip, was authored by Malta, the chair of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.
Today’s vote follows a period of intense, yet inconclusive, Council engagement on the escalation. Sharp divisions among Council members on important aspects of the crisis and what role the Council should play in the response, as well as opposing geopolitical interests, are at the heart of why—over a month since the start of the escalation—the Council has been unable to agree on a product.
None of the four draft resolutions addressing the crisis considered by Council members in October were adopted. On 16 October, a Russian-proposed draft text (S/2023/772) failed to be adopted because it did not garner the requisite votes, while a draft resolution put forward by Brazil (S/2023/773)—which received 12 votes in favour, more than any of the other drafts voted on thus far—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.
On 25 October, a draft resolution proposed by the US (S/2023/792) was not adopted due to vetoes cast by China and Russia. A competing draft text presented by Russia (S/2023/795) failed to be adopted because it did not garner the requisite votes. The Russian draft called for “an immediate, durable and fully respected humanitarian ceasefire”, while the US text called for “all measures, specifically to include humanitarian pauses” to allow “full, rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access”. (For background, see our 16 and 25 October What’s in Blue stories.)
Following the Council’s failure to adopt the Brazilian-proposed draft resolution, the President of the General Assembly resumed the Tenth Emergency Special Session (ESS) on “Illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory” after receiving three letters requesting the session’s resumption. On 27 October, the ESS adopted a resolution calling for “an immediate, durable, and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities” (A/RES/ES-10/21).
The Security Council’s inability to overcome its divisions is taking place against the backdrop of what OCHA has described as a “catastrophic” situation for the population in the Gaza Strip. Following the 7 October large-scale attacks against Israel led by Hamas, the Palestinian armed group and de facto authority in Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have carried out massive airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, and on 27 October, began their ground operation in northern Gaza. (For background, see our 7, 12, 23, and 29 October, as well as 6 and 10 November What’s in Blue stories.)
Figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA indicate that, as at 10 November, more than 11,000 Palestinians had been killed in Gaza, “of whom 4,506 were said to be children”, and approximately 2,700 people have been “reported missing and may be trapped or dead under the rubble”. Over 1.5 million people in Gaza are estimated to be internally displaced. On 9 October, the Israeli authorities ordered “a full siege” of the Gaza Strip, stopping the provision of power, food, gas, and water. Only a small fraction of the humanitarian aid needed has been allowed into Gaza via the Rafah crossing, which connects Gaza with Egypt. As at 13 November, all but one of the hospitals in Gaza City and northern Gaza were reportedly out of service, “due to the lack of power, medical consumables, oxygen, food and water, compounded by bombardments and fighting in their vicinities”.
According to OCHA, as at 10 November, the Israeli authorities released the names of 1,162 fatalities in Israel; 33 “[o]f those whose ages have been provided” are children. Figures provided by Israeli authorities cited by OCHA indicate that over 230 hostages, including Israeli and foreign nationals, were taken into the Gaza Strip during the 7 October attacks. Approximately 30 of the hostages are reportedly children.
While the UN, as well as humanitarian and human rights organisations have repeatedly called for a ceasefire, no such measure has been implemented. Israel has opposed calls for a ceasefire, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stating on several occasions that Israel will only consider a ceasefire if it includes the release of the hostages.
On 9 November, the US announced that Israel had agreed to daily four-hour pauses, reportedly referred to by Israeli authorities as “tactical, local pauses for humanitarian aid”. On the same day, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric said that “[h]ow any such halt in the fighting and how it would work for humanitarian purposes would need to be coordinated with the United Nations, especially on the issue of timings and location” and that “it would have to be agreed with all parties to the conflict to be truly effective”. At the 10 November Security Council briefing on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, which was requested by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the UN, Riyad Mansour, criticised the four-hour pauses, saying that their “only goal is to force people to flee not to offer them some relief that their survival is guaranteed”. In a 5 November statement, the humanitarian organisation International Rescue Committee (IRC) said that, while different terms have been used, such as humanitarian pauses or ceasefires, any halt to the fighting “must be meaningful to be impactful”. The statement stressed that a minimum of five days will be required for aid to reach those in need and to re-establish and scale up systems of humanitarian aid and service delivery, among other measures.
Following the failed adoption of the US and Russian drafts at the Council’s meeting on 25 October, Ambassador Vanessa Frazier (Malta) announced that the ten elected Council members (E10) would work on a new draft resolution. It seems that the E10 worked first on a draft text among themselves, which was later shared with the five permanent members of the Council (P5).
It seems that the E10 draft resolution was largely based on language from the draft texts voted on in October. It apparently demanded, in one of its later iterations, “urgent humanitarian pauses” and the unconditional release of the hostages. The draft also called “on all parties to promptly allow and facilitate” unhindered humanitarian access, including through such steps as the establishment of “fully secured humanitarian corridors” and unequivocally condemned the 7 October “terrorist attacks by Hamas” as well as “all indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian objects in the Gaza Strip”.
It seems that a key point of contention was whether the resolution should have called for a ceasefire or for a humanitarian pause, with Russia arguing in favour of calling for a ceasefire and the US opposing any such proposals. Maintaining that a ceasefire would “leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on October 7th”, the US, Israel’s strongest ally at the Council, has publicly opposed calling for a ceasefire, and has only recently shifted its stance towards humanitarian pauses. It further appears that China, Russia, and the UAE requested adding a reference to Israel in the paragraph condemning indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian objects, citing the fact that the draft directly condemned Hamas and arguing that this would better reflect the reality on the ground.
As the divergence of positions among members strongly suggested that had the text been put to a vote, it would have failed to be adopted, the E10 draft text was apparently shelved in early November. The negative effect of a fifth failed draft on public perceptions of the Council may have been a factor in the decision to suspend working on this text.
On 8 November, Malta circulated a new draft resolution on the crisis, this time with a focus on humanitarian issues and, particularly on issues relating to the protection of children. After several rounds of comments and bilateral consultations, on 14 November Malta put a revised version of its draft under silence procedure until 10:30 am today (15 November). It seems that Russia broke silence, citing imbalances in the draft resolution. Nevertheless, Malta put an unchanged draft in blue and called for a vote at 3 pm today. The draft text in blue “[d]emands that all parties comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, notably with regard to the protection of civilians, especially children”.
With Secretary-General António Guterres stressing in a 6 November statement that “Gaza is becoming a graveyard for children”, Malta’s proposed draft can be seen as an attempt to increase the chances of an adoption by highlighting a specific issue that could capitalise members’ support and avoiding other aspects of the conflict that members perceive as political. It seems that several members shared the idea that a step-by-step approach to the Council’s response to the escalation would be useful to facilitate agreement, with some members apparently maintaining that the new draft text could represent a pragmatic step to work incrementally towards a ceasefire.
It seems that the main point of contention during the negotiations was language on humanitarian pauses. While the first draft of the resolution called for a five-day humanitarian pause, the US apparently opposed any reference to a specific duration for such pauses. The US position is consistent with public messages from Netanyahu, who has opposed calls for pauses longer than a few hours. It seems, however, that several members emphasised the need for the resolution to at least include language calling for pauses long enough to have a meaningful humanitarian effect on the ground.
In an apparent compromise, the draft resolution in blue calls for “extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip for a sufficient number of days” to enable unhindered humanitarian access for UN humanitarian agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other “impartial humanitarian organizations”, to facilitate the provision of “essential goods and services important to the well-being of civilians, especially children” as well as “urgent rescue and recovery efforts, including for missing children in damaged and destroyed buildings” and the “evacuation of sick or injured children and their care givers”. Although in an earlier iteration of the draft such pauses were to be established within 24 hours from the resolution’s adoption, this reference no longer appears in the draft resolution in blue.
The draft text in blue also requests the Secretary-General to report on the implementation of the resolution “at the next mandated meeting of the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East” and requests that he identifies “options to effectively monitor the implementation of this resolution as a matter of prime concern”. It seems that the reference to monitoring the resolution’s implementation was included in response to requests from Russia, apparently supported by China and the UAE, to include language on a mechanism that would have monitored the resolutions’ implementation.
The draft text in blue calls for “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas and other groups, especially children” and calls “on all parties to refrain from depriving the civilian population in the Gaza Strip of basic services and humanitarian assistance indispensable to their survival”. It further includes language rejecting the “forced displacement of the civilian population, including children, in violation of international law” and expressing concern “that the disruption of access to education has a dramatic impact on children, and that conflict has lifelong effects on their physical and mental health”.
*Post-script (15 November, 5:30 pm EST): Prior to the vote, Russia submitted an oral amendment to the draft resolution authored by Malta. The amendment would have added a new paragraph calling for “an immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities”, which is taken directly from the resolution adopted on 27 October at the General Assembly’s resumed Tenth Emergency Special Session. The amendment failed to be adopted because it did not garner the required votes. It received five votes in favour (Brazil, China, Mozambique, Russia, and the UAE), one vote against (the US), while the remaining nine members abstained. The Council then voted on the draft text submitted by Malta. The resolution was adopted with 12 votes in favour and three abstentions (Russia, the UK, and the US).