Two competing resolutions on the Israeli-Hamas war languished at the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday—one from Moscow calling for a ceasefire and the other from Washington pushing for humanitarian pauses.
The U.S. draft, which Washington negotiated meticulously with other member states, drew vetos from Russia and China, two of the five permanent members of the Security Council with veto power. Ten of the 15 council members voted in favor, with the United Arab Emirates joining Moscow and Beijing. Russia’s envoy Vassily Nebenzia said the resolution gave Israel the green light to operate without regard for civilian casualties since the text did not call for a ceasefire.
Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates and Gabon were the only states to vote for Russia’s draft. Nine members abstained, and the United States and Britain voted against it. To pass, Security Council resolutions require nine affirmative votes without any vetoes from permanent members.
Wednesday was the second time a Russian resolution on Israel and Hamas failed, and the fourth time the council failed to pass a resolution on the conflict.
“How would Moscow react if terrorist squads wiped out entire neighborhoods in Moscow? How would Beijing react if terrorists cut off the heads of your babies?” asked Gilad Erdan, Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.
“I’ll give you a moment to think about that, even though you don’t even need a moment,” Erdan said. “We all know exactly how you would react.”
Erdan added that the resolution Moscow drafted did not mention Israel’s right to self-defense. “Would Moscow or Beijing accept the right to self-defense if they were faced with a similar threat?” he said. “I guess so.”
Both countries responded to Erdan’s charges.
“We are not asking you not to fight terrorism,” said Nebenzia, Moscow’s envoy. “We are asking you to fight terrorists and not civilians. Take this into account when you choose to respond to our words in the future.”
Zhang Jun, China’s ambassador to the United Nations, said he didn’t intend to get into an argument with Israel. He cited his support of Brazil’s resolution, which condemned Hamas and which Washington vetoed. (Brazil holds the Security Council presidency.)
“If Israel regards China as an adversary, you have probably chosen the wrong target,” he said. “From the beginning of the conflict in Gaza, we have condemned all attacks against civilians—Israelis and Palestinians.”
Vanessa Frazier, Malta’s ambassador, said the E10 group—of countries elected to the council—plans to submit its own draft resolution to the council.
Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates form the E10; China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States are permanent members.
The U.S. resolution draft condemned Hamas for its brutal massacre on Oct. 7 and demanded that the terror organization, which Washington has designated since 1997, release all of the hostages.
The draft did not call for a ceasefire but did emphasize “all measures necessary, specifically to include humanitarian pauses, to allow the full, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access” and for advancing steps, such as “the establishment of humanitarian corridors and other initiatives for the sustainable delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians.”
The Biden administration has appeared to waffle in recent days on “ceasefires” and “humanitarian pauses,” at times saying that they give Hamas an advantage and saying on other occasions that they are necessary to protect Palestinian civilians.
“Whether you call it a pause or whether you call it a ceasefire, you have to think about what that would mean in this context when Israel has suffered this terrorist attack and Israel continues to suffer ongoing terrorist attacks,” Matthew Miller, the U.S. State Department spokesman said on Oct. 23.
The next day, John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, differentiated between the two terms. “We want to see all measure of protection for civilians. And pauses in operation is a tool and a tactic that can do that for temporary periods of time,” Kirby said. “That is not the same as saying a ‘ceasefire.’ Again, right now we believe a ceasefire benefits Hamas. A general ceasefire.”
During negotiations of the U.S. draft resolution text, several references to international law were inserted and a provision demanding that Iran cease exporting arms and material to regional terror groups was removed. Instead, states were told generally “to take practical steps to prevent the export of arms and material to armed militias and terrorist groups operating in Gaza, including Hamas.”
The text also recognized Israel’s right to defend itself.
Russia’s resolution, which was seen widely as a tit-for-tat with Washington, appeared to undergo little serious revision or negotiation. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia of introducing an 11th-hour resolution “in bad faith” and with no consultations. She urged members to accept her resolution, which she called “strong and balanced.”
Nebenzia countered that the U.S. draft was “politicized,” claiming Washington wanted to keep the Security Council from having influence over a seemingly imminent Israeli ground invasion.
Russia’s draft condemned Hamas and demanded the immediate release of the hostages, as well as “an immediate, durable and fully-respected humanitarian ceasefire.” It also called for humanitarian pauses and aid corridors. It demanded a revocation of Israel’s evacuation order for Gazans living in the northern part of the territory, which Jerusalem implemented to target Hamas without endangering civilians.
The draft also “unequivocally” condemned “indiscriminate attacks against civilians as well as against civilian objects in the Gaza Strip resulting in civilian casualties.” It made no mention of the Israeli right to self-defense.
On Oct. 26, the U.N. General Assembly will hold an emergency session on the Israel-Hamas war.
Jordan has floated a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and unhindered humanitarian access and rescission of Israel’s evacuation order for northern Gaza, and it “rejects any attempts at forced transfer of the Palestinian civilian population.”
Unlike Security Council resolutions, those of the General Assembly don’t carry the force of international law but are seen to have symbolic weight. They require a simple majority for passage.
A vote would likely occur on Friday afternoon or early evening, given how many member states are expected to speak.