The demand for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that is binding under international law has failed again in the UN Security Council almost six months after the start of the war. Russia and China blocked a resolution introduced by the USA in New York in the most powerful body of the United Nations with a veto.

For the USA, Israel’s closest ally, the resolution marked a turnaround: Washington wanted to call for “an immediate and permanent ceasefire” in the Gaza war for the first time. In view of the increasing number of civilian casualties and the threat of famine in parts of the sealed-off coastal strip, the USA had recently increased its pressure on Israel. But the draft resolution did not go far enough for Moscow and Beijing – in their eyes, the text was, among other things, too pro-Israel and not sufficiently binding.

The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, once again strongly supported the resolution immediately before the vote. The decision would put pressure on the Islamist Hamas to give in to current negotiations for a ceasefire and the release of the hostages, she argued. “Every day without a decision means more unnecessary suffering,” she emphasized.

Criticism of the US government’s proposed resolution

Russian UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya, however, said that the US government’s proposed resolution was half-hearted and did not call for a ceasefire clearly enough. He further criticized the text as “effectively a green light” for Israel’s further military action, for example with regard to the planned offensive in the city of Rafah on the Egyptian border. Hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people have sought protection in the city in the southern Gaza Strip. Voting for the resolution would have been a “disgrace,” he said.

Chinese UN Ambassador Zhang Jun also described the resolution as not broad enough. An immediate ceasefire without preconditions is needed. If the US is serious about its demand, it should vote for a stronger resolution text that is currently being prepared by other states, he said.

Of the 15 members of the Security Council, only eleven ultimately voted for the US resolution. Algeria and permanent members China and Russia voted against, while Guyana abstained. The committee’s efforts to achieve a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip had previously failed several times in recent months due to resistance from the USA.

This is how the vote works

A resolution in the UN Security Council needs the votes of at least 9 of the 15 member states. In addition, there may be no veto from the permanent members USA, Russia, China, France or Great Britain. Security Council resolutions are binding under international law. If an affected state ignores them, the body can impose sanctions. However, it is unclear how great the impact of a decision would have been on the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

After a meeting with Netanyahu, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated his rejection of the planned military offensive in Rafah. A major military ground offensive in Rafah is not the way to defeat Hamas, he said before leaving Tel Aviv. “It would risk the deaths of even more civilians, even greater chaos in the delivery of humanitarian aid.”

For Israel, it also means the risk of further global isolation, he warned. According to his office, Netanyahu stuck to the plan to destroy Hamas in Rafah with a ground offensive. If necessary, Israel will take this step alone and without US support, he said.

In addition, the EU states had sharpened their tone towards Israel and called for an immediate ceasefire in view of the dramatic plight of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip. This should lead to a sustainable ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages held in the Gaza Strip and the provision of humanitarian aid, according to the declaration by the heads of state and government adopted at an EU summit. Israel was also asked not to launch a ground offensive in Rafah.

The draft of the rejected US resolution in the Security Council emphasized the “need for an immediate and lasting ceasefire to protect civilians on all sides and to enable the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance and alleviate human suffering.” The Security Council fully supports ongoing international efforts to “achieve such a ceasefire coupled with the release of all remaining hostages,” the text continued. The Security Council also reaffirmed the plan to strive for a two-state solution in the Middle East, “with the Gaza Strip as part of a Palestinian state.”

Concerns about the local population

The text of the resolution spoke of “great concern” for the civilian population there in view of Israel’s planned offensive in Rafah. The document also expressed “deep concern about the threat to civilians from conflict-induced famine and epidemics.” Hunger in Gaza has reached “catastrophic conditions”. All parties have an obligation under international law to protect civilians and provide for their basic needs in the areas under their control, it said. Israel is heavily criticized internationally for not providing enough aid to the suffering Palestinians. Israel rejects this criticism.

The Gaza war was triggered by the unprecedented massacre with more than 1,200 deaths that terrorists from Hamas and other groups carried out in Israel on October 7th. Israel responded with massive air strikes and, from the end of October, also with a ground offensive. According to the Hamas-affiliated health authority, significantly more than 31,000 people died in the Gaza Strip as a result of the military operation. More than 74,000 others were injured.