The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Vote on a Draft Resolution*
Today (22 December), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution authored by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on scaling up and monitoring humanitarian aid going into Gaza. The vote was postponed several times since Monday (18 December) to allow more time for negotiations.*
At the time of writing, discussions were apparently ongoing and changes to the draft currently in blue were still possible.
The draft resolution currently in blue demands that the parties to the conflict “allow, facilitate and enable the immediate, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance at scale directly to the Palestinian civilian population throughout the Gaza Strip”. In connection to this, the draft text calls for the “urgent suspension of hostilities”, and for “urgent steps towards a sustainable cessation of hostilities”.
The draft resolution in blue requests the Secretary-General to establish under his authority a monitoring mechanism in the Gaza Strip “to exclusively monitor all humanitarian relief consignments to Gaza provided through land, sea and air routes of those States that are not parties to the conflict”. According to the text, as part of the mechanism, the UN will notify both the Palestinian Authority and Israel to confirm the humanitarian nature of the consignments. The draft text says that the mechanism is introduced “without prejudice” to inspections that do not “unduly delay the provision of humanitarian assistance” conducted outside of Gaza by states which are not party to the conflict. The monitoring mechanism will be in effect for one year, and will then be automatically extended for one-year periods upon request of the Secretary-General to the Security Council.
The draft text also reiterates the Council’s demand that all parties to the conflict comply with international law, including regarding the conduct of hostilities and the protection of civilians and civilian objects. It further rejects the “forced displacement of the civilian population, including children” and reiterates the Council’s “unwavering commitment” to the two-state solution.
It appears that the original impetus for the UAE-led draft was an extraordinary joint Arab-Islamic summit on the situation in Gaza held on 11 November in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which called for a Security Council resolution on the matter.
Today’s vote follows the failure of a UAE-proposed draft Security Council resolution on 8 December. The draft resolution—which was vetoed by the US—demanded an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. All other members—except the UK, which abstained—voted in favour of the text. (For more information, see our 8 December What’s in Blue story.)
The vote also follows the 11 December informal visit by 11 current members of the Security Council and four incoming members to the Rafah crossing which connects Gaza with Egypt. The visit, which was organised by the UAE, aimed to provide participants with first-hand accounts of the current difficulties concerning the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza and arguably to illustrate to participating members and the wider public the necessity of a Security Council response to improve the situation. (For background, see our 16 December What’s in Blue story.)
The US, which has voted against all but one draft resolution on the crisis put forward by other members, did not participate in the informal visit. While the US continues to lend Israel its backing, including through the sale of weapons, US President Joe Biden’s 12 December reference to “indiscriminate bombing” by Israel in Gaza could mark an initial rhetorical shift in the US’ stance of unconditional support for Israel. The negotiations on the draft resolution currently in blue, however, appear to show that any potential shift is yet to translate to a change in the US’ voting pattern at the Security Council. Although US engagement on the draft resolution in order to reach a compromise potentially acceptable to Washington has been interpreted by some as an encouraging sign—at the time of writing, it was unclear whether the US will abstain or vote against the draft.
Negotiations on the Draft Resolution
Following a period of preliminary bilateral consultations on an early version of the text, the UAE circulated a first draft of the resolution on 8 December and scheduled a readthrough on 11 December, followed by a round of negotiations on 12 December. A first revised text was circulated on 13 December, with comments invited from Council members until the afternoon of the following day (14 December). A second revised text was circulated in the evening of 14 December and put under silence procedure until Friday afternoon (15 December). It seems that the UK broke silence over several aspects of the text, with other members such as France, Japan, Switzerland, and the US sending written comments after silence was broken. Late on Friday, the UAE put a third revised draft in blue. During the 16-17 December weekend, however, the UAE and the US apparently engaged in intense bilateral discussions over some aspects of the draft in blue that were not agreeable to the US. While a vote was initially scheduled by Ecuador (December’s Council president) for Monday (18 December), it was postponed several times on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and yesterday (21 December) to allow more time for negotiations. A vote was eventually scheduled for this morning (22 December).
It seems that an initial concern for some members was that an early version of the draft resolution could be read as conditioning the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza upon Security Council authorisation. The preliminary draft text included language deciding that UN humanitarian agencies “are authorized to use land, sea and air routes to and throughout the entire Gaza Strip”. It appears that these members were mindful of the experience of the Syria cross-border aid mechanism, especially the Council’s recent failure to approve its reauthorisation, and sought to avoid giving the impression that the Council was tying the delivery of humanitarian aid to political decision-making.
It appears that the penholder sought to address these concerns by including in subsequent drafts framing language on the conflict parties’ international legal obligations on the provision of humanitarian assistance. The text currently in blue reiterates the Council’s demand that the conflict parties comply with their international law obligations regarding humanitarian access and “the duty, as applicable, of ensuring the food and medical supplies, among others, of the population”. The draft resolution further affirms that “nothing in this resolution absolves the parties of these obligations”.
During the negotiations, several members apparently raised questions about the proposed monitoring mechanism’s effectiveness, particularly whether it would add a layer to, rather than streamline, the existing arrangements for the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza. It seems that these members suggested amendments that they believed would render the mechanism more expeditious, such as for the UN to assume a coordinating role for the arrangements that are already in place rather than creating a new mechanism. It is unclear, however, to what extent these reservations—which apparently also included security concerns given that hostilities in Gaza, where the mechanism would be established, are currently ongoing—were alleviated. Although most members apparently did not object to the language on the monitoring mechanism as articulated in the draft that was put in blue on 18 December, it seems that the US sought further changes during bilateral negotiations with the UAE. In particular, the US apparently proposed language requesting OCHA to report to the Security Council on “efforts to implement a coordination mechanism for monitoring aid flowing into the Gaza Strip”. It seems that this amendment was unacceptable to the UAE as it would have drastically changed the original intent of the draft resolution, which was to request the Secretary-General to establish a monitoring mechanism.
One of the most contentious issues was language in the draft resolution calling for a cessation of hostilities. It seems that Council members generally perceive this phrase as an intermediate option between calling for humanitarian pauses and calling for a ceasefire. It appears that including language calling for a cessation of hostilities was an important objective for the UAE, especially in light of the widespread support for the resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire adopted on 12 December by the resumed Tenth Emergency Special Session (ESS) of the General Assembly. (The ESS resumed after the Council’s failure on 8 December to adopt the UAE-proposed draft resolution calling for a ceasefire. The resolution adopted by the resumed tenth ESS, which is largely based on the UAE-proposed draft Council resolution, garnered 153 votes in favour, 23 abstentions, and ten votes against.)
During the negotiations, it seems that the UK requested substituting language that called for an “immediate” cessation of hostilities with language calling for an “urgent and sustainable” cessation of hostilities. Language calling “for an urgent and sustainable cessation of hostilities” appeared in the draft that was put in blue on 15 December but was later amended following apparent opposition from the US. The UK has recently shifted its stance from only supporting humanitarian pauses towards calling for a “sustainable ceasefire”. While the exact scope of the phrase “sustainable” in this context is unclear, UK Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs David Cameron has indicated that a sustainable ceasefire does not amount to a “general and immediate ceasefire” and that it would require Hamas to “lay down its arms”.
It seems that the US—which has opposed calls for a ceasefire and has yet to publicly call for a cessation of hostilities—could not accept language calling for this latter measure and apparently sought a more indirect formulation during its bilateral exchanges with the UAE. In an apparent compromise, the draft currently in blue calls for “the urgent suspension of hostilities” to allow humanitarian access and “for urgent steps towards a sustainable cessation of hostilities”. It seems, however, that this language may still be unacceptable to the US, which apparently requested amending this paragraph further after the text was put in blue on 18 December, to call for “urgent steps to immediately allow safe, unhindered, and expanded humanitarian access and also for urgent steps toward a reduction of hostilities”.
During the negotiations, the US apparently objected to references to Israel as “the occupying power” and to language that Washington believed could be read as imposing binding legal obligations under the UN Charter. An earlier version of the text contained a determination that “the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip constitutes a threat to peace and security in the region” as well as several provisions framed as decisions of the Security Council. (According to Article 25 of the UN Charter, “The Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter”.) None of these references are contained in the draft in blue. For instance, although in the first draft of the resolution, the Council “decide[d]” that the conflict parties should “allow the use of all land, sea and air routes to and throughout the entire Gaza Strip” for the provision of humanitarian assistance, in the draft in blue the Council “[d]emands” that the parties do so.
In line with recent messaging from high-ranking US officials, it seems that the US proposed and obtained the inclusion of a refence in the draft resolution stressing “the importance of unifying the Gaza Strip with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority”. However, the US apparently opposed including language proposed by the penholder stressing that the Gaza Strip is “an integral part of the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967 and that it must be part of the Palestinian State”. This language, which is largely based on text from Security Council resolution 1860 of 8 January 2009, was eventually modified in the current draft in blue in an apparent attempt to accommodate US concerns. The draft text currently in blue stresses that the Gaza Strip “constitutes an integral part of the territory occupied in 1967, and reiterat[es] the vision of the two-State solution, with the Gaza Strip as part of the Palestinian State”.
It seems that following requests from several members—including France, Japan, the UK, and the US—language was added demanding the “immediate and unconditional release of all hostages”. The draft resolution currently in blue condemns “all violations of international humanitarian law, including all indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian objects, all violence and hostilities against civilians, and all acts of terrorism”, but without naming the perpetrators of these violations.
Finally, the draft resolution currently in blue demands the full implementation of resolution 2712 of 15 November and requests the Secretary-General to report to the Council in writing on the implementation of resolution 2712 “within five working days” of the adoption of the resolution currently in blue, and every 30 days thereafter. Resolution 2712 called for, among other things, “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 draft text also requests the Secretary-General to report on the implementation of the present resolution “in the regular reporting to the Council”.
Post-script (20 December 1:30 PM): Following the story’s publication, the vote was postponed by a day. The story was amended to reflect this development.
Post-script (22 December 1:30 PM): The story was amended to reflect that the vote was eventually held on the morning of Friday (22 December), after being postponed several times since Monday (18 December).
Several changes were made to the draft that was put in blue on 18 December after the story’s publication. On the morning of 20 December, it became apparent to the penholder, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), that the US was likely to vote against the draft resolution as it then stood. In an attempt to avoid a failed adoption, a vote which was scheduled for that day was postponed to allow further time for consultations and was delayed several times thereafter. It appears that the US and non-Council member Egypt engaged in intense bilateral discussions to reach an agreement over the formulation of the paragraphs on the monitoring mechanism. (By making available the Sinai airport of Al Arish for the delivery of humanitarian supplies and opening the Rafah crossing which connects Egypt with Gaza, Egypt has played a key role in the humanitarian response to the war in Gaza, but has also faced numerous connected challenges. For more, see our 16 December What’s in Blue story on the visit by several Council members to the Rafah crossing.)
The language agreed by the US and Egypt requests that the Secretary-General appoints a Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator responsible for “facilitating, coordinating, monitoring, and verifying in Gaza, as appropriate, the humanitarian nature of all humanitarian relief consignments” that are provided to Gaza through states which are not conflict parties. The text also requests the Coordinator to establish a UN mechanism for accelerating humanitarian consignments to Gaza through states which are not party to the conflict and demands that the conflict parties cooperate with the Coordinator. The text further requests the Coordinator to report to the Security Council within 20 days and thereafter every 90 days until 30 September 2024.
After Egypt and the US agreed on this formulation, the relevant paragraphs were inserted into a revised draft of the resolution that was then circulated as a working document to Council members. This draft, which was otherwise based on the text put in blue on 18 December, contained several edits introduced by the US, such as replacing language calling for “urgent steps towards” a sustainable cessation of hostilities with a call for “creat[ing] the conditions” for such a measure.
Other notable amendments included a request to the Secretary-General to report on the implementation of resolution 2712 of 15 November “as necessary”, as opposed to every 30 days, and replacing language demanding that the conflict parties allow the use of “all land, sea and air” routes with a reference to “all available” routes. Language recognising that the civilian population in Gaza “does not have access to sufficient quantities of assistance” and that the provision of humanitarian aid “has been insufficient” was replaced with language recognising that the civilian population “must” have access to sufficient quantities of assistance and that aid “needs to be sufficient”.
On the morning of 22 December, the UAE put a final version of the text in blue. This version integrated all the main changes introduced by the US except for the proposed deletion of a paragraph condemning “all violations of international humanitarian law, including all indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian objects, all violence and hostilities against civilians, and all acts of terrorism”. A reworked version of this paragraph was introduced in the draft in blue without the reference to indiscriminate attacks, but with text calling on all parties to adhere to international law and deploring all attacks, violence, and hostilities against civilians and all acts of terrorism.
Prior to the vote, Russia proposed an oral amendment that would have reverted the language on the cessation of hostilities to the formulation that was included in the draft put in blue on 18 December. This language would have called for “the urgent suspension of hostilities to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access, and for urgent steps towards a sustainable cessation of hostilities”. The Russian amendment failed to be adopted owing to a veto cast by the US. Four Council members abstained (Albania, Japan, Switzerland, and the UK), while the remaining ten members voted in favour. The Council then proceeded to voting on the whole text submitted by the UAE. The text was adopted as resolution 2720, with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions (Russia and the US).