Behind the scenes of Security Council's Gaza ceasefire

Samar Al-Gamal , Friday 5 Apr 2024

Permanent Representative of the Arab League to the UN Maged Abdel-Fattah explains the background to last month’s UN Security Council Resolution calling for a ceasefire in the war on Gaza.

Background to the UN resolution


After whirlwind manoeuvres orchestrated by the US and leading to many revisions of a draft resolution, after 171 days of the war in Gaza the UN Security Council adopted a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan that should lead to a lasting ceasefire on 25 March.

Arab League Permanent Representative to the UN Maged Abdel-Fattah said that an earlier US resolution had met with the opposition of Russia and China, both Permanent Members of the Council, and an Arab resolution had been vetoed by the US in February.

“Since then, the Americans continued to modify their draft, going through six versions and revision after revision, and submitted it to the council only 48 hours before the vote on the new text proposed by the group of 10 Non-Permanent Council Members” that was finally passed, Abdel-Fattah said.

“The American project aimed at nothing other than paralysing the UN’s capacity to take a binding decision on Israel until an agreement is concluded outside of the UN through negotiations in Paris, Doha, and Cairo,” he said in a telephone interview from UN headquarters in New York.

The seasoned UN diplomat believes that “the six revisions [made to the US draft resolution] were a stalling tactic to drag the discussions on for weeks.”

“The situation quickly became clear. It was not that the draft did not prioritise an immediate ceasefire, and link it to the release of captives, but that it was charged with redline details.”

The draft condemned Hamas as a terrorist organisation, a stance the Arab group disagreed with.

“The position of all the Arab countries is that Hamas and the Palestinian factions are resistance movements, whether or not we agree with what happened on 7 October. They cannot be classified like Boko Haram in Nigeria or Al-Shabab in Somalia or the M23 group in Congo. This is unacceptable,” Abdel-Fattah said.

Arab opposition also arose in response to the US attempt to shift blame onto the UN agency assisting Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, as a result of unsubstantiated claims of staff involvement in violence.

“The US wanted to condemn UNRWA while we were still waiting for a report from the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services and the report of the evaluation committee formed by the UN Secretary-General to evaluate the performance of UNRWA’s operations on the ground.”

“The US text wanted to shift its role to under the Security Council umbrella through the work of Sigrid Kaag, special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, as a new UN aid mechanism,” Abdel-Fattah said.

“We decided to oppose the resolution, and we informed the Americans of this. We reached an agreement with China and Russia, who agreed with us that the text as it stood, given the humanitarian situation on the ground and Israel’s refusal to let in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, should not pass.”

The US did not veto the subsequent draft resolution put forward by the Non-Permanent Members, with this becoming UN Security Council Resolution 2728.

While the US abstained on the vote, its underlying goals were not entirely abandoned, however. “By abstaining, they avoided damaging relations with the Islamic world and facing increasing pressure due to the worsening situation in Gaza,” Abdel-Fattah said.

Abdel-Fattah, who has previously also been Egypt’s permanent representative to the UN, said that the US still got a resolution that indirectly linked the ceasefire to the release of the captives, a key US goal.

The US ambassador to the UN said in her explanation of the vote on the resolution that it was necessary to guarantee the release of “our hostages,” he said.

The Arab group is concerned about Israel’s compliance with the ceasefire resolution and intends to explore options for enforcement measures to be taken against Israel at the Security Council, a move likely to be thwarted by a US veto.

France, which earlier said it wants to move forward with a text on the political process, put forward a draft at a closed consultation session of the council on Monday that “requests” the UN secretary-general to develop options for a possible role for the UN Truce Supervision in Gaza to contribute to monitoring a ceasefire.

“The new draft includes parts that differ drastically from the Arab group’s wording. Some parts are taken from the US draft, and some are new,” explained the diplomat.

The draft still condemns the Palestinian resistance as “terrorist,” he said.

“These are completely unacceptable wordings, and we will submit revisions to delete them.”

However, there are also positive aspects to the draft. France “expresses its intention” to welcome the State of Palestine as a full member of the UN, calls for negotiations on the two-state solution, stresses the illegality of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and concerns over the violence by extremist settlers, all of which are also Arab demands.

The Arab group is pursuing “a resolution for full UN membership for Palestine and not just as an observer,” a move that would likely face US opposition.

The State of Palestine has already been recognised by 140 countries out of the 193 UN members. “We therefore have a two-thirds majority to ensure a vote in our favour, as the admission of a new state requires a two-thirds majority at the General Assembly,” Abdel-Fattah said.

“There is unprecedented international sympathy for Palestine, and we want to take advantage of this not only to improve the humanitarian situation on the ground and achieve a ceasefire, but also to take a step further by integrating a Palestinian state, even if it does not yet have borders, which is a common practice at the United Nations, into the organisation.”

“Israel was created by General Assembly Resolution 181 that stipulated the creation of two states, a Palestinian state and an Israeli state. Israel was created, but Palestine was not,” he concluded.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 4 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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