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No ‘sustainable ceasefire’ in Gaza without release of hostages, US envoy says

“The pace of hostage talks can be frustrating,” said the U.S. deputy ambassador to the United Nations. “Negotiations at such high stakes do not always yield immediate results.”

Robert Wood, the U.S. deputy ambassador to the United Nations, during a press conference at United Nations headquarters in New York on Nov. 6, 2023. Credit: Lev Radin/Shutterstock.
Robert Wood, the U.S. deputy ambassador to the United Nations, during a press conference at United Nations headquarters in New York on Nov. 6, 2023. Credit: Lev Radin/Shutterstock.

There can be no ceasefire between Israel and Hamas until the terror organization releases the hostages in Gaza, the U.S. representative at the United Nations said on Thursday.

Washington vetoed Algeria’s U.N. Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire on Tuesday—the third time it has thwarted such a measure. On Thursday, the 15-member council held its regular monthly session on the Israeli-Palestinian file.

Robert Wood, the U.S. deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said that the best way to ensure long-term Israeli security is through the establishment of a Palestinian state, but the diplomat admitted that many obstacles impede that vision. 

“These obstacles include Hamas’s and other groups’ continued holding of 134 hostages,” he said. “I have said it before, and I will say it again: There can be no sustainable ceasefire in Gaza without the hostages being released. After five months of fighting, this is clear.”

Washington floated its own resolution, which supports a temporary humanitarian ceasefire “when practicable,” before the Security Council this week.

Several council members, who have said an immediate halt to hostilities is necessary to ramp up aid flow into Gaza, gave the U.S. resolution draft early negative marks, though it is critical of Israel’s planned military operations to root out Hamas terrorists in Rafah.

It is unclear whether that draft resolution will be put to a vote.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was asked about Israel and Gaza during an online briefing of the U.S. State Department’s Brussels Media Hub on Thursday.

“The United States has voted against three UNSC draft resolutions that include the word ‘ceasefire’ because that was regarded as a red line. Now the United States is explicitly calling for a ceasefire themselves in another UNSC draft currently under discussion. What is behind that decision? Are you trying to send a message to Israel now?” asked Michael Nienaber, of Bloomberg News.

“We’re trying to find a solution and the resolutions previously that call for an unconditional ceasefire were not helpful to supporting the negotiations on the ground that we were engaged on, along with Qatar and Egypt,” the U.S. diplomat said.

“We have always supported humanitarian pauses, and this current effort and negotiations that are taking place are pushing for that,” she added. “We have put forward a resolution that assists the efforts on the ground, and we have called in that resolution for a temporary ceasefire.”

Paris talks

Washington has insisted that calls for an imposed ceasefire harm ongoing diplomatic efforts to reach a more durable agreement between Israel and Hamas.

“The pace of hostage talks can be frustrating. They are complicated by practical considerations, and as we all know, negotiations at such high stakes do not always yield immediate results,” Wood said on Thursday. “For this reason, we are working day in and day out, with our partners in Egypt and Qatar, to achieve a positive result that would bring the hostages home and result in a six-week-long cessation in fighting.”

“Council support for this diplomacy is critical to increase pressure on Hamas to accept the agreement on the table,” he added.

Ceasefire talks were set for Friday in Paris, with the United States, France, Egypt, Qatar and Israel set to participate.

But Tor Wennesland, U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told the Security Council on Thursday that there is “no end to the trauma of those impacted by the horrors unleashed on Oct. 7.”

“No end to the suffering and desperation of the people in Gaza. No end to the regional turmoil,” he said, referring to the humanitarian situation in Gaza as “shocking and unsustainable” and “desperate.”

U.N. Security Council
Wide view of the U.N. Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. On the screen is Tor Wennesland, special coordinator for the Middle East peace process. Credit: Loey Felipe/U.N. Photo.

“Ultimately, the only long-term solution for Gaza is political. While taking into account Israel’s legitimate security concerns, there must be a clear path toward restoring a single, effective Palestinian governance” across the Palestinian-controlled territories, he said. “International support to strengthening and reforming the Palestinian Authority to improve domestic and international legitimacy will be crucial.”

‘Real leverage’

The United Kingdom, which abstained from Tuesday’s 13-1 vote on Algeria’s resolution, reiterated on Thursday that merely demanding a ceasefire won’t end the war.

“We want the fighting to stop now, but simply calling for a ceasefire will not serve this goal,” said Barabra Woodward, the U.K. ambassador to the United Nations.

“We are calling for an immediate suspension of hostilities and then for progress towards a ceasefire, which means the release of all hostages; the formation of a new government for the West Bank and Gaza; and the removal of Hamas’s capability to launch another attack against Israel,” she said. She added that there must be a “removal of Hamas’s capability to launch another attack against Israel.”

France, which has increasingly vocalized frustration with the council’s unwillingness to condemn Hamas’s massacre, stressed the centrality of freeing the hostages to achieve a ceasefire.

“France calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages,” said Nicholas de Rivière, Paris’s ambassador to the global body. He added that the Security Council “needs to prioritize this.”

The French envoy did not spare criticism of Israel’s military operations against Hamas in Gaza but also demanded that the Security Council “must also finally condemn the terrorist attacks of Oct. 7 committed by Hamas and other terrorist groups.”

Russia continued to dial up its rhetoric against both Washington and Jerusalem.

“It is clear that real leverage over Israel is something Washington does not have,” said Vassily Nebenzia, Moscow’s U.N. envoy.

Vassily Nebenzia
Vassily Nebenzia, the Russian envoy to the United Nations, addresses the U.N. Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question on Feb. 22, 2024. Credit: Loey Felipe/U.N. Photo.

Nebenzia accused the United States of blocking the path to peace through the use of its veto power as one of the five permanent Security Council members.

“The release of hostages cannot take place without a ceasefire,” the Russian diplomat claimed.

Several countries voiced concerns about wider regional implications of the continuation of the Israel-Hamas war, including spillover in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq.

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