What's In Blue

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

This morning (22 March), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution on the war between Israel and Hamas. The draft text, which was authored by the US, “determines the imperative of an immediate and sustained ceasefire to protect civilians on all sides”, and towards that end “unequivocally supports” ongoing diplomatic efforts “to secure such a ceasefire in connection with the release of all remaining hostages”.


Following the 7 October 2023 large-scale attacks against Israel led by Hamas, 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 21 March, at least 31,988 Palestinians had been killed. 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 21 March, an estimated 134 Israelis and foreign nationals remain captive in Gaza.

Large areas of Gaza have been bombed to the ground, with World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently describing the conditions in which people in Gaza are living and receiving health care as “inhumane”. According to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report, which was issued on 18 March, famine is “imminent in the northern governorates of the Gaza Strip and projected to occur anytime between mid-March and May 2024”, with the entire population of Gaza facing high levels of acute food insecurity. On 19 March, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk stressed that “[t]he situation of hunger, starvation and famine is a result of Israel’s extensive restrictions on the entry and distribution of humanitarian aid and commercial goods, displacement of most of the population, as well as the destruction of crucial civilian infrastructure”.

Today’s vote will mark the ninth time the Security Council has voted on a draft resolution on the war between Israel and Hamas. Only two out of the eight 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 which called for a ceasefire. The Security Council has come under increasing criticism for its failure to adopt a resolution calling for a ceasefire, with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) Secretary General Christopher Lockyear stressing during his briefing at the 22 February Council meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” that “[m]eeting after meeting, resolution after resolution, this body has failed to effectively address this conflict”.

The US, which has provided Israel with political and military support throughout the war, including through the sale of weapons, has until recently opposed any demands for a ceasefire and has been averse to this term in Security Council resolutions and in its public messaging. At the Council, the US has vetoed two draft resolutions which called directly for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, most recently on 20 February (S/2024/173). The US argued that this draft resolution, which was authored by Algeria, would have “negatively impact[ed]” the indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas facilitated by Egypt, Qatar, and the US, an argument that was challenged by the Arab Group at the UN, as well as by several Council members, 13 of whom voted in favour of the Algerian draft text. In October 2023, the US also vetoed a draft resolution calling for “humanitarian pauses”, authored by Brazil (S/2023/773).

Negotiations on the Draft Resolution

Negotiations on the US draft resolution proved difficult. The penholder circulated the first draft of its resolution to all Council members on 20 February, shortly after it cast a veto on the draft resolution authored by Algeria. Council members discussed the US draft text during an informal negotiation meeting on 21 February. The US circulated a first revised draft on 26 February and, after a round of comments, issued a second revised draft on 29 February, inviting further comments until 1 March. On 5 March, the US circulated a third revised draft, followed on 4 March by a fourth revised draft which was put under silence procedure until 11 March. Silence was broken by Russia, after which most other Council members apparently sent comments. On 14 March, the US put a fifth revised draft in blue. After further negotiations, the US circulated an amended version of its text on Wednesday (20 March), and yesterday (21 March) a vote was scheduled for 9 am today (22 March).

One of the most contentious issues during the negotiations was language on a ceasefire. While the US still opposes unconditional demands for an immediate ceasefire, it recently introduced a qualified use of this term during the negotiations on its draft resolution and in its political messaging. The US has retained its position that any product adopted by the Council must not be in contradiction with the outcome it seeks from the indirect talks between Hamas and Israel, namely, that a halt in the fighting be tied to the release of the hostages.

The initial version of the draft text underscored the Council’s support for a “temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practicable, based on the formula of all hostages being released”. This formulation was rephrased several times in an attempt to accommodate concerns by a majority of Council members that, although the language proposed by the US contained the word “ceasefire”, the text was in practice calling for a temporary pause after which fighting would resume. The third revised draft no longer referred to a “temporary ceasefire” but expressed the Council’s support for diplomatic efforts towards an agreement for “an immediate ceasefire of roughly six weeks in Gaza together with the release of all hostages as soon as the parties agree”. It appears that many members were not satisfied with this change, noting, among other things, the temporary nature of the proposed ceasefire and that it was to begin only once the parties had reached an agreement.

The draft that was put in blue on 14 March expressed the Council’s unequivocal support for “international diplomatic efforts to establish an immediate and sustained ceasefire as part of a deal that releases the hostages”. It seems that this phrasing still did not satisfy several members, with some maintaining that the role of the Council—as the body with primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security—and the dire situation in Gaza demand that the Council call for an immediate ceasefire rather than only expressing support for talks.

After further negotiations, the US reformulated this paragraph to state that the Council “[d]etermines the imperative of an immediate and sustained ceasefire to protect civilians on all sides” and to “allow for the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance”, adding that towards that end, the Council “unequivocally supports ongoing international diplomatic efforts to secure such a ceasefire in connection with the release of all remaining hostages”. While it appears that some members will be able to support this phrasing today, others might still object, arguing that determining the imperative of a ceasefire falls short of the Council directly calling for such a measure, and that the current phrasing still ties the ceasefire to the release of the hostages instead of calling for these elements in their own right.

The draft resolution in blue also emphasises the Council’s support for “using the window of opportunity created by any ceasefire to intensify diplomatic and other efforts aimed at creating the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities and lasting peace”. The text condemns “all acts of terrorism, including the Hamas-led attacks of October 7, 2023”. It also “[c]ondemns calls by government ministers for the resettlement of Gaza”, an apparent reference to recent statements by some Israeli officials.

Language on an Israeli ground offensive targeting Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, also proved contentious. This refers to the 9 February announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he had ordered the preparation of a “combined plan” to evacuate civilians and to destroy Hamas’ forces in Rafah. Since that announcement, key international interlocutors—including senior UN officials and humanitarian and human rights organisations—have repeatedly warned of the catastrophic consequences of an offensive targeting Rafah, where over a million displaced Palestinians are currently present.

Language in the draft resolution has reflected the US position on this issue as recently expressed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his 5 March meeting with Israeli War Cabinet member Benny Gantz. At that meeting, Blinken said that Israel needs “a credible and implementable humanitarian plan prior to any major military operation in Rafah”. One of the earlier iterations of the draft resolution currently in blue said that the Council determined that “under current circumstances a major ground offensive into Rafah would result in further harm to civilians and their further displacement including potentially into neighbouring countries” and underscored that “such a major ground offensive should not proceed under current circumstances”.

This language was apparently challenged by a majority of Council members out of concern that it could be interpreted as the Security Council indirectly approving an offensive in Rafah under some circumstances. In an apparent attempt to address these concerns, in the third revised draft the US moved the language on the offensive from the operative section of the resolution to its preamble and removed text saying that an offensive “should not proceed under the current circumstances”, leaving text saying that “under current circumstances” an offensive would result in further harm and displacement of civilians. It seems, however, that many members were still uncomfortable with the reference to “under current circumstances”.

This reference no longer appears in the draft in blue, which emphasises the Council’s concern that a ground offensive would result in further harm and displacement of civilians, including potentially into neighbouring countries. It seems that while some members found this formulation less contentious than previous ones, others found problematic that the text does not contain a prohibition of an offensive on Rafah, especially in light of recent announcements by Netanyahu that he has approved plans for such an operation. The draft resolution in blue also contains a preambular reference to the need for measures to reduce civilian harm from “ongoing and future operations”, which may heighten these concerns.

It appears that some Council members, including Russia, had reservations about some of the language on Hamas in the draft resolution. The text currently in blue notes that Hamas “has been designated as a terrorist organization by numerous Member States” and urges “Member States to intensify their efforts to suppress the financing of terrorism, including by restricting financing of Hamas”. It seems that these members are uncomfortable with these references given that neither the Security Council as a whole, nor several of its members, have designated Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

Another issue of contention in the early stages of the negotiations was language on the role of the Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator (SHRC) for Gaza, a post established by Security Council resolution 2720. It appears that, among other issues, some members found that the numerous paragraphs in earlier versions of the draft elaborating on the role of the SHRC could have expanded the responsibilities of the SHRC with the effect of reducing the role of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Following the reduction of the paragraphs focusing on the SHRC in subsequent revised drafts and some changes to the phrasing used—such as the inclusion of references to other senior UN officials and agencies—it seems that this language became less controversial. It appears, however, that a request to include language highlighting the key role of UNRWA in Gaza was not accommodated by the US. Language stressing the key role of “all UN humanitarian agencies” in providing assistance was apparently added instead.

Elected Members’ Draft

This afternoon, the Security Council might also vote on a draft resolution put forward by some of the ten elected members of the Council (E10). It seems that, although the draft was initially negotiated as an E10 initiative, it is currently being put forward by only some of the E10 due to diverging positions among these members on some elements of the text. The draft resolution was put in blue last night (21 March), but a vote has yet to be scheduled at the time of writing.

In its current version, the draft text demands an immediate ceasefire for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started on 10 March, leading to a permanent sustainable ceasefire. The draft resolution demands the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages. It also deplores “all attacks against civilians and civilian objects, as well as all violence and hostilities against civilians, and all acts of terror”. This draft text follows Security Council resolution 2724, which was adopted on 8 March with 14 votes in favour and one abstention (Russia). It called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Sudan during Ramadan and for all warring parties to seek a sustainable resolution to the conflict through dialogue.


Post-script (22 March, 12:40 pm EST): On 22 March, the Security Council voted on the draft resolution submitted by the US. China and Russia vetoed the US draft, on which Algeria also voted against. The draft text received 11 votes in favour and one abstention (Guyana).

At the time of writing, a vote on the draft resolution proposed by several elected members (E10) was expected to take place tomorrow morning (23 March).

Post-script (23 March, 12:00 pm EST): The vote on the draft resolution proposed by several elected members (E10) has been postponed to Monday (25 March).

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