What's In Blue

Posted Mon 19 Feb 2024

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

Tomorrow morning (20 February), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution on the war between Israel and Hamas. The draft resolution, which was authored by Algeria, demands an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. At the time of writing, it seems unlikely that the text will be adopted. Although most Council members are expected to vote in favour of the draft resolution in blue, the US has publicly stated that it opposes this initiative.

Following the 7 October 2023 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. On 27 October 2023, the IDF also launched a ground operation initially focused on northern Gaza and later extended to most other areas of the Gaza Strip. Figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA indicate that, as at 19 February, over 29,000 Palestinians have been killed. Entire neighbourhoods have been bombed to the ground, with 1.7 million people estimated to be internally displaced as at 17 February. According to figures provided by Israeli authorities cited by OCHA, more than 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals have been killed in Israel, the vast majority on 7 October 2023. As at 19 February, an estimated 134 Israelis and foreign nationals remain captive in Gaza.

It appears that Algeria announced its intention to seek a new Security Council resolution on the war during the 31 January closed consultations on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. It seems that the initial impetus for the Algerian initiative was the 26 January order issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) indicating provisional measures in South Africa’s proceedings against Israel concerning alleged violations in the Gaza Strip of obligations under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the ‘Genocide Convention’). In its order, the ICJ concluded that “at least some of the rights claimed by South Africa and for which it is seeking protection are plausible”, including “the right of the Palestinians in Gaza to be protected from acts of genocide”. Among other measures, the ICJ said that Israel must “take all measures within its power” in relation to Palestinians in Gaza to prevent the commission of acts within the scope of Article 2 of the Genocide Convention, including killing and causing serious bodily or mental harm. The order was also a key focus of the open briefing that preceded the closed consultations on 31 January. (For background, see our 31 January What’s in Blue story.)

Algeria shared a first draft of the resolution on 31 January, shortly after the closed consultations on the same day. Council members discussed the draft text during an informal negotiations meeting on the morning of 2 February, with comments invited from Council members until 1 pm of the same day. Algeria circulated a first revised draft in the evening of 2 February, which was open for comments until mid-day on 5 February. On 6 February, Algeria circulated a second revised draft, which was put under silence procedure until the following day. Silence was broken by the US, after which other Council members sent comments.

Following the US’ silence break on 7 February and bilateral consultations, Algeria apparently agreed to accommodate a request by the US, supported by several other members, to delay the vote on the draft resolution to allow some time for indirect talks between Israel and Hamas facilitated by international intermediaries in Cairo, Egypt, on a deal that would include the release of the remaining hostages held by Hamas and an extended humanitarian pause.

In New York, the US—Israel’s strongest ally at the Security Council—opposed Algeria’s draft text both publicly and during the negotiations, arguing that a resolution demanding a ceasefire could jeopardise the talks between the parties. The Arab Group at the UN, of which Algeria is a member, has challenged this view, with the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the UN, Riyad Mansour, saying in remarks to the press on 14 February that a resolution would help the talks in Cairo by putting pressure on Israel to speed up the process of reaching a deal. Although some Council members apparently tried to reach a compromise on the language in the Algerian draft resolution demanding a ceasefire, these attempts appear to have been unsuccessful.

The negotiations on the draft resolution authored by Algeria took place against the backdrop of the increasing possibility of a full-scale Israeli offensive targeting Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city. On 9 February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he had ordered the IDF and the Israeli security establishment to prepare a “combined plan” to evacuate civilians and to destroy Hamas’ forces in Rafah. Senior UN officials have warned against an Israeli offensive in Rafah. In a 13 February statement, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths said that over half of Gaza’s population is “crammed in Rafah, staring death in the face” with little to eat, almost no access to medical attention, and “nowhere safe to go”. He added that “[m]ilitary operations in Rafah could lead to a slaughter in Gaza”, leaving the humanitarian response “at death’s door”.

Amid reports of the talks in Cairo reaching an impasse, a vote on the draft resolution was initially expected on 15 February or shortly after. It seems, however, that Algeria agreed to further pause action on the draft resolution following a 14 February phone call between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs and National Community Abroad Ahmed Attaf, during which Blinken apparently asked for more time for the talks between Israel and Hamas in order to achieve a deal.

On 15 February, Algeria circulated a third revised draft, which was put under silence procedure until the morning of the following day (16 February). The UK and the US broke silence, after which several members provided comments. On Saturday (17 February), Algeria put the draft in blue, to be voted on tomorrow (20 February).

The draft text in blue demands an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and deplores all attacks against civilians and civilian objects as well as all acts of terrorism. It “[r]ejects forced displacement of the Palestinian civilian population, including women and children” and reiterates the Council’s demand that all parties comply with their obligations under international law as well as its demands for unhindered humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip and the “urgent, continuous and sufficient provision of humanitarian assistance at scale”. The draft resolution in blue also recalls the 26 January order by the ICJ indicating provisional measures to Israel.

Following requests by several Council members, language was apparently added during the negotiations demanding “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, as well as ensuring humanitarian access to address [the] medical needs of all hostages”. Many members apparently also requested Algeria to include a condemnation of the 7 October 2023 Hamas-led attacks, but it seems that these requests were not accommodated.

Tomorrow will mark the eighth time that the Security Council has voted on a draft resolution on the war between Israel and Hamas. Only two out of the seven draft resolutions on the crisis voted on by the Council thus far were adopted: resolution 2712 of 15 November 2023 and resolution 2720 of 22 December 2023. Neither of these resolutions called for a ceasefire.

At the time of writing, a US veto on the Algerian draft seems to be the most likely outcome of tomorrow’s vote. Throughout the war, the US has provided Israel with military and political support, including through the sale of weapons. At the Security Council, the US voted against three draft resolutions which called directly for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire (S/2023/772, S/2023/795, and S/2023/970 on 16 October, 25 October, and 8 December 2023 respectively). During the negotiations on resolution 2720 in December 2023, draft compromise language calling for “an urgent and sustainable cessation of hostilities” was further diluted to an opaque call for urgent steps “to create the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities” in order to secure a US abstention.

It seems that any recent rhetorical shift by the US has yet to translate into a substantive change of position. Although the US has warned Israel that a major military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a “credible plan” to ensure the safety of the people sheltering there, the Biden administration is reportedly preparing to send additional weapons to Israel. Answering a question on whether US President Joe Biden would halt military assistance to Israel if it proceeded with an operation in Rafah that does not take into account the consequences for the civilian population, US National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby said on 12 February that the US will “continue to support Israel” and ensure that it has “the tools and the capabilities” to defend itself against Hamas.

More recently, it appears that the US is preparing a draft resolution on the war to be negotiated following tomorrow’s vote on the draft text proposed by Algeria. Among other things, the US preliminary draft reportedly contains language supporting a “temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practicable, based on the formula of all hostages being released”. While containing the word “ceasefire” for the first time in a US-proposed Security Council product on the war, this language is still consistent with the previously expressed US opposition to any demands, such as that contained in the Algerian draft in blue, for a ceasefire to take place immediately.


Post-script (20 February, 10:40 am EST): On 20 February, the Security Council voted on the draft resolution submitted by Algeria. 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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