US declines to use veto, abstains from vote as UN demands cease-fire in Gaza

3 months ago
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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations Security Council on Monday issued its first demand for a cease-fire in Gaza, with the U.S. angering Israel by abstaining from the vote. Israel responded by canceling a visit to Washington by a high-level delegation in the strongest public clash between the allies since the war began.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the U.S. of “retreating” from a “principled position” by allowing the vote to pass without conditioning the cease-fire on the release of hostages held by Hamas.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the administration was “kind of perplexed” by Netanyahu’s decision. He said the Israelis were “choosing to create a perception of daylight here when they don’t need to do that.”

Kirby and the American ambassador to the U.N. said the U.S. abstained because the resolution did not condemn Hamas. U.S. officials chose to abstain rather than veto the proposal “because it does fairly reflect our view that a cease-fire and the release of hostages come together,” Kirby said.

The 15-member council voted 14-0 to approve the resolution, which also demanded the release of all hostages taken captive during Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise attack in southern Israel. The chamber broke into loud applause after the vote.

The U.S. vetoed past Security Council cease-fire resolutions in large part because of the failure to tie them directly to the release of hostages, the failure to condemn Hamas’ attacks and the delicacy of ongoing negotiations. American officials have argued that the cease-fire and hostage releases are linked, while Russia, China and many other council members favored unconditional calls for a cease-fire.

The resolution approved Monday demands the release of hostages but does not make it a condition for the cease-fire for the month of Ramadan, which ends in April.

Hamas said it welcomed the U.N.’s move but said the cease-fire needs to be permanent.

“We confirm our readiness to engage in an immediate prisoner exchange process that leads to the release of prisoners on both sides,” the group said. For months, the militants have sought a deal that includes a complete end to the conflict.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted: “This resolution must be implemented. Failure would be unforgivable.”

The U.S. decision to abstain comes at a time of growing tensions between President Joe Biden’s administration and Netanyahu over Israel’s prosecution of the war, the high number of civilian casualties and the limited amounts of humanitarian assistance reaching Gaza. The two countries have also clashed over Netanyahu’s rejection of a Palestinian state, Jewish settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the expansion of settlements there.

In addition, the well-known antagonism between Netanyahu and Biden — which dates from Biden’s tenure as vice president — deepened after Biden questioned Israel’s strategy in combating Hamas.

Then Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Biden ally, suggested that Netanyahu was not operating in Israel’s best interests and called for Israel to hold new elections. Biden signaled his approval of Schumer’s remarks, prompting a rebuke from Netanyahu.

During its U.S. visit, the Israeli delegation was to present White House officials with its plans for a possible ground invasion of Rafah, a city on the Egyptian border in southern Gaza where over 1 million Palestinian civilians have sought shelter from the war.

Last week, Netanyahu rebuffed a U.S. request to halt the planned Rafah invasion – vowing during a visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to act alone if necessary. Blinken warned that Israel could soon face growing international isolation, while Vice President Kamala Harris said Israel could soon face unspecified consequences if it launches the ground assault.

The Security Council vote came after Russia and China vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution Friday that would have supported “an immediate and sustained cease-fire” in the Israeli-Hamas conflict. That resolution featured a weakened link between a cease-fire and the release of hostages, leaving it open to interpretation, and no time limit.

The United States warned that the resolution approved Monday could hurt negotiations to halt the hostilities, raising the possibility of another veto, this time by the Americans. The talks involve the U.S., Egypt and Qatar.

Because Ramadan ends April 9, the cease-fire demand would last for just two weeks, though the draft says the pause in fighting should lead to “a lasting sustainable cease-fire.”

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the resolution “spoke out in support of the ongoing diplomatic efforts,” adding that negotiators were “getting closer” to a deal for a cease-fire with the release of all hostages, “but we’re not there yet.”

She urged the council and U.N. members across the world to “speak out and demand unequivocally that Hamas accepts the deal on the table.”

Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. abstained because “certain edits” the U.S. requested were ignored, including a condemnation of Hamas.

The resolution, put forward by the 10 elected council members, was backed by Russia and China and the 22-nation Arab Group at the United Nations.

Under the United Nations Charter, Security Council resolutions are legally binding on its 193 member nations, though they are often flouted.

Algeria’s U.N. ambassador, Amar Bendjama, the Arab representative on the council, thanked the council for “finally” demanding a cease-fire.

“We look forward to the commitment and the compliance of the Israeli occupying power with this resolution, for them to put an end to the bloodbath without any conditions, to end the suffering of the Palestinian people,” he said.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, told the council that the vote “must be a turning point” that leads to saving lives in Gaza and ending the “assault of atrocities against our people.”

Shortly before Monday’s vote, the elected members changed the final draft resolution to drop the word “permanent” from its demand that a Ramadan cease-fire should lead to a “sustainable” halt in fighting apparently at the request of the United States.

Russia complained that dropping the word could allow Israel “to resume its military operation in the Gaza Strip at any moment” after Ramadan and proposed an amendment to restore it. That amendment was defeated because it failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes — with three council members voting in favor, the United States voting against, and 11 countries abstaining.

Since the start of the war, the Security Council has adopted two resolutions on the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza, but none has called for a cease-fire.

More than 32,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed during the fighting, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. The agency does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count, but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

Gaza also faces a dire humanitarian emergency. A report from an international authority on hunger warned last week that “famine is imminent” in northern Gaza and that escalation of the war could push half of the territory’s 2.3 million people to the brink of starvation.

The United States has vetoed three resolutions demanding a cease-fire in Gaza, the most recent an Arab-backed measure on Feb. 20. That resolution was supported by 13 council members with one abstention, reflecting the overwhelming support for a cease-fire.

Russia and China vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution in late October calling for humanitarian pauses in the fighting to deliver aid, the protection of civilians and a halt to arming Hamas. They said it did not reflect global calls for a cease-fire.

They again vetoed a U.S. resolution Friday, calling it ambiguous and saying it was not the direct demand to end the fighting that much of the world seeks.

That vote became another showdown involving world powers that are locked in tense disputes elsewhere, with the United States taking criticism for not being tough enough against its ally Israel, even as tensions between the two countries rise.

Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia and China on Monday of using the Gaza conflict “as a political cudgel, to try to divide this council at a time when we need to come together.”

Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Colleen Long in Washington and Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed.…Read more by

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