Why Biden Proposed a UN Ceasefire Resolution That Was Vetoed by Russia and China

8 minute read

The U.S. tried and failed to pass a UN Security Council resolution on Friday calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza linked to talks over a Hamas-Israel hostage deal. China and Russia both voted to veto the resolution.

President Biden has faced increasing pressure and ongoing protests from the left to more forcefully push Israel to stop its bombardments against Hamas that are killing civilians in Gaza. The humanitarian crisis on the Gaza Strip has become more dire as aid deliveries struggle to get needed food and supplies to 2 million people stuck in Gaza as Israel continues its military campaign to kill Hamas fighting forces following Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre of unarmed families in Israeli towns.

The effort by U.S. diplomats to put forth their own resolution on Friday marked a shift in the Biden administration's U.N. strategy, but not a significant shift in its stance on a ceasefire or the Israel/Gaza conflict more broadly.

Here’s what we know about the resolution, and how it connects to the U.S. strategy toward Israel and Gaza.

What was in the U.S. resolution?

The U.S. wanted the UN Security Council to call for a ceasefire aimed at protecting civilians, allowing for the delivery of aid, and supporting the ongoing diplomatic talks to release Israeli hostages. 

But the text of the resolution stopped short of clearly demanding a ceasefire without conditions. Instead, U.S. diplomats came up with the clunky formulation that the United Nations Security Council “determines the imperative of an immediate and sustained ceasefire.” It went on to say that such a ceasefire would be to “protect civilians on all sides”, “allow for the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance” “alleviate humanitarian suffering” and that the council “unequivocally supports ongoing international diplomatic efforts to secure such a ceasefire in connection with the release of all remaining hostages.”

The vetoed resolution also condemned all acts of terrorism including Hamas's Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, rejected any action by Israel that would "reduce the territory of Gaza”, and demanded Israel and armed groups protect humanitarian workers and medical personnel, in accordance with international law. It also reiterated the Security Council's commitment to a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.

The resolution failed to pass when China and Russia both used their veto powers on the council to block it. Eleven out of fifteen countries on the council voted in favor. Algeria voted “no” because it viewed the resolution as not going far enough because it didn’t call for an immediate end to hostilities. Guyana abstained, saying the resolution should have unequivocally demanded a ceasefire.

Why did China and Russia veto the ceasefire resolution?

China and Russia are using rising frustrations over the war in Gaza to try to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Middle Eastern countries and bolster their own standing in the region, says an American diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to give a frank assessment.

Russia has repeatedly called for a resolution that demands an immediate ceasefire but has blocked wording in previous resolutions condemning Hamas for the Oct. 7 attacks.

At the UN on Friday, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said that the U.S. draft was "not enough" and that the Council needs to "demand a ceasefire." The US resolution was "deliberately misleading" and designed to throw "a bone" to American voters demanding Biden call for a ceasefire.

Did the U.S. resolution call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza?

It did not. The U.S. resolution linked a ceasefire to access to Israeli hostages held by Hamas and the ongoing talks over their release.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that the resolution was intended to increase attention on the diplomacy needed to bring Hamas and Israel to an agreement over aid deliveries, hostage releases and a ceasefire. 

"I believe most of us share most of the same goals: we want to see an immediate and sustained ceasefire as part of a deal that leads to the release of all hostages being held by Hamas and other groups and that will allow much more life-saving humanitarian aid to get into Gaza,” Thomas-Greenfield said at the UN on Friday. “We can't just want that to happen, we have to make that happen. We have to do the hard work of diplomacy."

Thomas-Greenfield said that diplomats from the U.S., Egypt and Qatar are “working around the clock” to complete “a deal that leads to the release of all hostages being held by Hamas and other groups that will help us address the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We believe we are close. We are not there yet."

Has President Biden called for a ceasefire?

Biden has called for a ceasefire with conditions. He wants any ceasefire to be part of a deal to release Israeli hostages still held by Hamas and militant groups in Gaza. CIA director Bill Burns traveled to Qatar this week to hold meetings with officials from Israel, Qatar and Egypt in an effort to hammer out a diplomatic agreement along those lines.

On March 5, Biden said, “we need the ceasefire.” But the terms of a ceasefire are “in the hands of Hamas right now. The Israelis have been cooperating. There’s an offer out there that’s rational,” Biden said. 

Weeks later, those negotiations are still underway. “So far, this deal has been more elusive than we would have hoped,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on March 18. “If Hamas just handed over the elderly, the women, and the wounded, tomorrow, there would be a six-week ceasefire,” Sullivan said.

Why did the U.S. veto previous U.N. ceasefire resolutions?

The U.S. vetoed a Security Council resolution in February that demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The U.S. objected to that resolution not condemning Hamas's attacks against Israel on Oct. 7.  

How does this impact Biden’s relationship with Netanyahu?

Biden’s rapport with Netanyahu has been strained in recent weeks, even as his administration hasn’t backed down from providing Israel military support for its fight against Hamas in Gaza. Prior to a phone call between the two leaders on Monday, they hadn’t spoken directly for weeks. 

The two leaders don’t see eye to eye on how Israel has hunted down Hamas’s armed factions and leaders. Biden has been frustrated by Netanyahu and the Israeli military not doing more to reduce the number of civilians killed as they try to dismantle Hamas’s underground network of weapons storehouses and command centers in Gaza. Biden has also accused Israel of “indiscriminate bombing” in Gaza that has killed tens of thousands of people.

Read more: U.S. Patience With Netanyahu Is Running Out

Most recently, Biden has tried to convince Netanyahu to find ways to pursue Hamas fighters hiding inside the overflowing city of Rafah in the south of Gaza without killing more civilians. To that end, Biden set up a meeting between U.S. national security experts and Israeli war planners to lay out ways an operation in Rafah can be done that doesn’t require a massive Israeli military onslaught. But Netanyahu has been skeptical.

During a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Israel on Friday, Netanyahu said he told Blinken that he appreciated the US standing with Israel for the last five months in the war against Hamas. But he said that Israel was willing to go ahead alone, if it needed to. Netanyahu described his meeting with Blinken in a video statement, saying he told the U.S.’s top diplomat that, “we have no way to defeat Hamas without going into Rafah and eliminating the rest of the battalions there, and I told him that I hope we will do it with the support of the USA, but if we have to, we will do it alone.”

What does this resolution do for Biden politically?

Probably very little. With Biden’s reelection campaign gearing up, frustrations over his administration’s Gaza policy have threatened to splinter part of his base. At recent political events, Biden’s been called out by protestors for not demanding an immediate ceasefire and for continuing to provide U.S. military support for Israel’s campaign against Hamas in Gaza that has killed tens of thousands of civilians and brought the 2 million people living there to the brink of famine.

But Biden’s action on Friday doesn’t change much. While the U.S. draft resolution at the U.N. signaled that the Biden Administration was willing to put on paper the “imperative” for a ceasefire, it didn’t change Biden’s stance that a ceasefire has to be linked to Hamas releasing Israeli hostages.

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