U.S. angers Israel on UN Gaza vote

Abstention on Security Council demand for cease-fire spurs cancellation of high-level visit.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaks after abstaining as the United Nations Security Council passes a resolution demanding a cease-fire in Gaza at U.N. headquarters Monday.

By Edith M. Lederer | The Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS >> The United Nations Security Council on Monday issued its first demand for a cease-fire in Gaza, with the U.S. angering Israel by abstaining from the vote. Israel responded by canceling a visit to Washington by a high-level delegation in the strongest public clash between the allies since the war began.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the U.S. of “retreating” from a “principled position” by allowing the vote to pass without conditioning the cease-fire on the release of hostages held by Hamas.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the administration was “kind of perplexed” by Netanyahu’s decision. He said the Israelis were “choosing to create a perception of daylight here when they don’t need to do that.”

Kirby and the American ambassador to the U.N. said the U.S. abstained because the resolution did not condemn Hamas. Israel, the U.S. and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

The 15-member council approved the resolution 14-0 after the U.S. decided not to use its veto power on the measure, which also demanded the release of all hostages taken captive during Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise attack in southern Israel. The chamber broke into loud applause after the vote.

The U.S. vetoed past Security Council cease-fire resolutions in large part because of the failure to tie them directly to the release of hostages, the failure to condemn Hamas’ attacks, and the delicacy of ongoing negotiations. American officials have argued that the cease-fire and hostage releases are linked, while Russia, China and many other council members favored unconditional calls for cease-fires.

The resolution approved Monday demands the release of hostages but does not make it a condition for the cease-fire for the month of Ramadan, which ends in April.

Hamas said it welcomed the U.N.’s move but said the cease-fire needs to be permanent.

“We confirm our readiness to engage in an immediate prisoner exchange process that leads to the release of prisoners on both sides,” the group said. For months, the militants have sought a deal that includes a complete end to the conflict.

The U.S. decision to abstain comes at a time of growing tensions between President Joe Biden’s administration and Netanyahu over Israel’s prosecution of the war, the high number of civilian casualties and the limited amounts of humanitarian assistance reaching Gaza. The two countries have also clashed over Netanyahu’s rejection of a Palestinian state, Jewish settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the expansion of settlements there.

In addition, the well-known antagonism between Netanyahu and Biden, which dates from Biden’s tenure as vice president, deepened after Biden questioned Israel’s strategy in combating Hamas.

Then Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Biden ally, suggested that Netanyahu was not operating in Israel’s best interests and called for Israel to hold new elections. Biden signaled his approval of Schumer’s remarks, prompting a rebuke from Netanyahu.

During its U.S. visit, the Israeli delegation was to present White House officials with its plans for a possible ground invasion of Rafah, a city on the Egyptian border in southern Gaza where over 1 million Palestinian civilians have sought shelter from the war.

The vote came after Russia and China vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution Friday that would have supported “an immediate and sustained cease-fire” in the Israeli-Hamas conflict. That resolution featured a weakened link between a cease-fire and the release of hostages, leaving it open to interpretation, and no time limit.

The United States warned that the resolution approved Monday could hurt negotiations to halt the hostilities, raising the possibility of another veto, this time by the Americans. The talks involve the U.S., Egypt and Qatar.

Because Ramadan ends April 9, the cease-fire demand would last for just two weeks, though the draft says the pause in fighting should lead to “a sustainable cease-fire.”

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the resolution “spoke out in support of the ongoing diplomatic efforts,” adding that negotiators were “getting closer” to a deal for a cease-fire with the release of all hostages, “but we’re not there yet.”

She urged the council and U.N. members across the world to “speak out and demand unequivocally that Hamas accepts the deal on the table.”

Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. abstained because “certain edits” the U.S. requested were ignored, including a condemnation of Hamas.

The resolution, put forward by the 10 elected council members, was backed by Russia and China and the 22-nation Arab Group at the United Nations.

Under the United Nations charter, Security Council resolutions are legally binding on its 193 member nations, though they are often flouted.

Algeria’s U.N. ambassador, Amar Bendjama, the Arab representative on the council, thanked the council for “finally” demanding a cease-fire.

“We look forward to the commitment and the compliance of the Israeli occupying power with this resolution, for them to put an end to the bloodbath without any conditions, to end the suffering of the Palestinian people,” he said.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, told the council that the vote “must be a turning point” that leads to saving lives in Gaza and ending the “assault of atrocities against our people.”

Shortly before Monday’s vote, the elected members changed the final draft resolution to drop the word “permanent” from its demand that a Ramadan cease-fire should lead to a “sustainable” halt in fighting apparently at the request of the United States.

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