Middle EastAnalysis

US veto of UN resolution for ‘immediate humanitarian ceasefire’ in Gaza angers sponsor Algeria

US circulates its own draft resolution asking Security Council to support temporary ceasefire ‘as soon as practicable’

Washington’s veto on Tuesday night of the United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza has angered its sponsor Algeria and 12 other members who voted in favour.

The US cast the only veto while Britain abstained. The other three permanent Security Council members with the power to veto – France, China and Russia – supported the resolution, which also demanded the immediate and unconditional release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas and unhindered access to humanitarian aid for Gaza.

The resolution – tabled by Algeria on behalf of Arab states – was based on last month’s interim order of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) compelling Israel to prevent acts of genocide in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Having initially proposed such a resolution at the end of December, Algeria’s UN representative, Amar Bendjama, said the text was the result of extensive discussions among council members. “Now is the time for action,” he stated after seven weeks of deliberation while the situation in Gaza has grown increasingly desperate.


After vetoing Algeria’s text, the US circulated its own draft resolution. This would ask the council to “underscore its support for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practicable, based on the formula of all hostages being released, and calls for lifting all barriers to the provision of humanitarian assistance at scale”.

While commentators observed that this is the first time the Biden administration has used the word “ceasefire,” there is no call for an immediate halt to hostilities. It merely says “as soon as practicable” without defining who will determine when this would be “practicable.” Would it be the council, Israel or the US?

The choice of that word is also unfortunate in the Palestinian context. UN General Assembly resolution 194, paragraph 11, of December 11th, 1948, resolves that Palestinian refugees driven from their homes during Israel’s war of establishment “wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date”.

While Palestinians have clung to this resolution as their “right to return”, Israel has never found its implementation “practicable”.

Furthermore, in the US text the ceasefire is conditioned on agreement being reached over the release of Israeli hostages. However, the principal mediator, Qatar, has said negotiations have stalled. In a post on X Qatari foreign ministry spokesman Majad Al-Ansari blamed Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, claiming he seeks to “prolong the war”.

The US stance on Israel’s intention of extending its offensive in coming weeks to the southern Gaza town of Rafah, where 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering, is complex. Its draft does not rule out a major Israeli land, sea and air operation in Rafah. Instead the text “determines that under current circumstances a major ground offensive into Rafah would result in further harm to civilians and their further displacement, including potentially into neighbouring countries”.

This, the text reads, “would have serious implications for regional peace and security, and therefore underscores that such a major ground offensive should not proceed under current circumstances”. This means, therefore, that the offensive could happen when circumstances allow.

China and Russia castigated the US veto of the Algerian resolution, and expressed concerns over the US text. Either or both could veto the US resolution whenever tabled.

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