What's In Blue

Posted Fri 8 Dec 2023

The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Briefing and Vote on a Draft Resolution*

This morning (8 December), the Security Council is expected to hold a meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Secretary-General António Guterres is the expected briefer.

Later today, the Council is also expected to vote on a draft resolution on the situation in Gaza. The draft resolution currently in blue, which was authored by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), demands an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. The vote, which was initially scheduled for this morning, was later postponed to 5:30 pm in order to provide time for further negotiations. The vote was subsequently moved up to 3 pm.*

The meeting comes after Guterres issued a letter on 6 December appealing for a humanitarian ceasefire and urging Council members to “avert a humanitarian catastrophe”; a message he is expected to reiterate today. The letter says that the “hostilities in Gaza and Israel have created appalling human suffering, physical destruction and collective trauma across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory”. In a rare move, the letter invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter, which states that “[t]he Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security”.


Today’s meeting was scheduled by Ecuador, December’s Council President. According to rule 3 of the Security Council’s provisional rules of procedure, the president of the Security Council shall call for a meeting if, among other things, “the Secretary-General brings to the attention of the Security Council any matter under Article 99”. It seems that Russia and the UAE also separately requested a meeting on the situation.

On 1 December, hostilities resumed between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian armed group and de facto authority in Gaza, after a seven-day pause in fighting. The pause marked the first halt in hostilities since the 7 October large-scale attacks against Israel led by Hamas, and the subsequent massive airstrikes by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on the Gaza Strip and, since 27 October, their ground operation in northern Gaza. Following the collapse of negotiations between Israel and Hamas, the IDF launched a major offensive in the south of the Gaza Strip and resumed heavy bombardment and ground operations in other parts of Gaza, while Palestinian armed groups resumed rocket launches towards Israel.

A 5 December update by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) says that Israeli forces “continue to inflict heavy and intense bombardment on Gaza using wide area impact weapons in densely populated areas that are claiming high numbers of civilian casualties”, noting that “[t]he pattern of attacks that target or impact on civilian infrastructure raises serious concerns about Israel’s compliance with international humanitarian law and significantly raises the risk of atrocity crimes”.

Figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA indicate that, as at 7 December, at least 17,177 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, with many more missing, presumably under the rubble. Since the resumption of the hostilities, humanitarian access has been severely limited, with Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths saying during a 7 December press briefing that the humanitarian community “do[es] not have a humanitarian operation in southern Gaza that can be called by that name anymore”.

According to figures provided by Israeli authorities cited by OCHA, over 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals have been killed in Israel, the vast majority on 7 October. Over 200 hostages were taken into the Gaza Strip during the attacks. During the pause, 86 Israelis and 24 foreign nationals were released as a result of the deal between Israel and Hamas.

At today’s meeting, Council members are expected to express grave concern at the situation in Gaza and reiterate the importance of respecting international humanitarian law and protecting civilians from harm. Several members are likely to call for a ceasefire and may urge unity among Council members and a strong Council response to the crisis. Members may also reiterate previously expressed concerns, such as the untenability of the current humanitarian situation in Gaza and the risk of an escalation in the West Bank and the wider region. Several members might call on Israel to open its border crossings into Gaza to facilitate the scaled-up delivery of humanitarian assistance. Since the outbreak of hostilities, humanitarian aid has only been delivered through the Rafah crossing which connects Gaza with Egypt. However, Griffiths said during the 7 December press briefing that “there are some promising signs” regarding the possible opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza. According to media reports, a US official said on 7 December that Israel has agreed to open the Kerem Shalom crossing for screening and inspection of humanitarian aid delivered to Gaza.

Members may also call for the implementation of resolution 2712 of 15 November, and may seek an update from Guterres on his proposals for monitoring the resolution’s implementation. This resolution called, among other things, for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip for a sufficient number of days” to enable unhindered humanitarian access, and for the release of all hostages held by Hamas and other groups. The resolution requested the Secretary-General to identify “options to effectively monitor” its implementation.

Draft Resolution 

In announcing the draft resolution on X (formerly Twitter), the UAE said that the Security Council “needs to act decisively” to demand a humanitarian ceasefire, stressing that the “situation in the Gaza Strip is catastrophic and close to irreversible”. The draft text currently in blue says that the Council is “[t]aking note of and acting upon” the Secretary-General’s 6 December letter. It expresses “grave concern over the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population”, emphasises that “the Palestinian and Israeli civilian populations must be protected in accordance with international humanitarian law”, and demands an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. It also demands the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages and “ensuring humanitarian access”. The short draft resolution requests the Secretary-General to report to the Security Council “on an urgent and continuing basis” on the implementation of the resolution.

At the time of writing, it seems unlikely that the draft resolution will be adopted. The US, Israel’s strongest ally on the Council, has thus far firmly opposed calling for a ceasefire, saying that it would allow Hamas to regroup and to continue launching attacks. The UK has also similarly rejected calls for a ceasefire. The US has voted against all but one draft resolution on the crisis put forward by other members.

The negotiations on the draft resolution proved difficult. On 6 December, shortly after the Secretary-General issued his letter, the UAE shared a first draft of the text with Council members, inviting comments until 10 am yesterday (7 December) and later extending the deadline until 11 am. Yesterday afternoon, the UAE issued a revised draft, putting it under silence procedure until 3:30 pm. Although the UK and the US broke silence, the UAE put the draft resolution in blue later in the day, calling for a vote this morning. The vote was later postponed to 5:30 pm in order to provide time for further negotiations.

The main area of contention appears to be the core demand of the draft resolution: its call for a humanitarian ceasefire. It seems that, in their comments on the draft, both the UK and the US proposed replacing language demanding a ceasefire with, respectively, calling for “another urgent humanitarian truce” and encouraging “efforts to reinstate humanitarian pauses”. It also appears that both the UK and the US proposed adding language condemning the 7 October Hamas-led attacks and demanding that Hamas immediately and unconditionally release all the hostages.

Today, these members may lament the absence of language condemning Hamas in the resolution. The US may reiterate its position that direct engagement with Israel and quiet diplomacy are preferable to Council products in this context.

On the other hand, many Council members—including Brazil, China, Malta, Mozambique, Russia, and the UAE—have called for a ceasefire in their remarks during recent Council meetings, with France calling for a truce leading to a ceasefire. On 18 October, when the Council voted on a Brazilian-proposed draft resolution on the crisis, Brazil, China, Gabon, Mozambique, Russia, Switzerland, and the UAE voted in favour of a Russian-proposed amendment that would have added a paragraph calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. The paragraph failed to be included in the draft because of a lack of requisite votes, while the draft resolution was vetoed by the US.

Human rights and humanitarian organisations have repeatedly called for a ceasefire. In a 7 December press release on today’s vote, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard said that the US and all Council members have a “clear obligation under international law to prevent atrocities”, adding that there can be “no justification for continuing to block” meaningful Council action “to stop massive civilian bloodshed, the complete collapse of the humanitarian system, and even worse horrors resulting from the breakdown of public order and massive displacement”.


Post-script: On 8 December, the Council voted on the draft resolution submitted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The draft text failed to be adopted owing to a veto by the US. All other members—except the UK, which abstained—voted in favour of the text.

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