'Serious negotiations' taking place to avoid US veto on Gaza ceasefire vote

Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment on Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)
Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment on Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. Credit: AP

Washington is holding high-level negotiations with key allies and Arab nations in the hopes of avoiding another US veto of a new UN resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

For the third time this week, the United Nations Security Council delayed voting on the motion on Wednesday amid significant disagreements over the proposal's wording.

If eventually passed, the resolution would provide a chance to deliver desperately needed aid into Gaza, and a draft calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages in held in the Palestinian enclave.

It also calls for a future two-state solution, which would see Gaza and the West Bank unified under the Palestinian Authority, which partially governs the latter territory.

However, major obstacles remain in the way, including a sticking point of the inspection of aid trucks into Gaza to ensure they are only carrying humanitarian goods. The current draft proposes a UN role, which Israel is likely to oppose.

US President Joe Biden is pushing for a $110 billion aid package for security needs, including in Ukraine. Credit: AP

Speaking to reporters late on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden said: "We’re negotiating right now at the U.N. the contours of a resolution that we may be able to agree to.” Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh of the United Arab Emirates, which sponsored the Arab-backed resolution, said earlier that high-level discussions are underway to try to reach agreement on a text that can be adopted. “Everyone wants to see a resolution that has impact and that is implementable on the ground,” she told reporters after the 15 council members held closed consultations early on Wednesday afternoon and agreed to the delay.

“We believe today, giving a little bit of space for additional diplomacy, could yield positive results.”

Palestinians evacuate from a site hit by an Israeli bombardment on Rafah. Credit: AP

The vote — initially postponed from Monday and then pushed back to Tuesday and then Wednesday — was expected Thursday morning, said Ecuador’s UN Ambassador José Javier De La Gasca López-Domínguez, the current Security Council president. A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive diplomacy, said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would speak with his Egyptian and UAE counterparts to try to reach a consensus either late Wednesday or early Thursday. As part of Washington's push at the UN, Blinken spoke yesterday with the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom and stressed the need for urgent humanitarian aid and “the imperative of minimizing civilian casualties".

The US is also seeking to prevent escalation of the conflict and says it is committed to the "establishment of an independent Palestinian state,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. Ms Nusseibeh said the UAE is optimistic, but if the negotiations yield no results by Thursday “then we will assess in the council to proceed ... to a vote on the resolution”.

20,000 Palestinians have been killed, since the war started, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, Credit: AP

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said Gaza faces “a humanitarian catastrophe” and that a total collapse of the humanitarian support system would lead to “a complete breakdown of public order and increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt.”

Last week the UN food agency reported that 56% of Gaza’s households are experiencing “severe levels of hunger,” up from 38% two weeks earlier. The draft on the table Monday morning called for an “urgent and sustainable cessation of hostilities,” but this language was watered down in a new version that was to be put to a vote on Wednesday.

It would call “for the urgent suspension of hostilities to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access, and for urgent steps towards a sustainable cessation of hostilities.” That draft also calls for Mr Guterres to quickly establish a mechanism for exclusive UN monitoring of aid deliveries to Gaza — bypassing the current Israeli inspection of aid entering the strip. US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby also raised two other issues Wednesday morning that are not in the Arab-sponsored resolution — condemnation of Hamas’ October 7 attack, and Israel’s right to self-defense.

“These are very serious discussions and negotiations, and we hope that they lead somewhere," he said.

On December 8 the US vetoed a Security Council resolution, backed by almost all other council members and dozens of other nations, demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

The 193-member General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a similar resolution on December 12 by a vote of 153-10, with 23 abstentions.

In its first unified action on November 15, with the US abstaining, the Security Council adopted a resolution calling for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses” in the fighting, unhindered aid deliveries to civilians and the unconditional release of all hostages. Security Council resolutions are important because they are legally binding, but in practice many parties choose to ignore the council’s requests for action. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, though they are a significant barometer of world opinion. Nearly 20,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, since the war started. Hamas does not distinguish between fighters and civilians when providing these figures.

Around 1,200 people in Israel were killed during Hamas' October 7 attack, while militants took about 240 hostages.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…