Biden administration policy differences reportedly behind delay in Gaza ceasefire vote at UN

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A vote on a Gaza ceasefire resolution was postponed for a second time at the UN security council on Tuesday, amid reported policy differences inside the Biden administration.

While diplomatic efforts struggled in New York in the pursuit of a formalised truce, there was a renewed push for a new hostage deal that would involve a short humanitarian pause in the fight to allow an exchange with Palestinian prisoners.

The UN draft resolution, drafted by the United Arab Emirates, had been changed on Tuesday in an effort to avoid a third US veto since the conflict began more than two months ago. Instead of calling for an “urgent and sustainable cessation of hostilities,” the amended text referred to “the urgent suspension of hostilities to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access, and for urgent steps towards a sustainable cessation of hostilities”.

According to diplomatic sources, the US mission in New York believed it had negotiated a text that it could at least abstain on, but when Washington was consulted, new objections were raised, with the White House reportedly taking a more pro-Israel line than the state department.

The White House objections included opposition to any mention of the word “cessation”, unease over a clause that puts the UN in charge of monitoring the flow of humanitarian aid without explicitly mentioning Israel’s role in checking cargo entering Israel, and the absence in the draft resolution of a condemnation of Hamas for its 7 October cross-border attack on Israeli communities, which killed about 1,200 people.

As consultations between New York and Washington continued, a vote on the UAE resolution was put off until Wednesday morning at the earliest.

“We’re still working through the modalities of the resolution,” the White House national security spokesperson, John Kirby, said. “It’s important for us that the rest of the world understand what’s at stake here and what Hamas did on 7 October and how Israel has a right to defend itself against those threats.”

Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE ambassador to the UN, said: “Ultimately, the endpoint is a ceasefire, but as you know, that was not adopted recently, so we have to move to the space that allows humanitarian workers to work safely and at scale.”

Meanwhile, there were new efforts under way to revive a hostage-for-prisoner swap that produced a weeklong pause in the fighting at the end of November. A meeting on Monday in Warsaw, between Qatar’s prime minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, the Mossad chief, David Barnea, and the CIA director, William Burns, was described as “positive” but not decisive. During an earlier negotiated pause in hostilities Hamas released 110 women, children and foreigners it was holding in exchange for 240 Palestinian women and teenagers being held in Israeli jails.

“The talks were positive with negotiators exploring and discussing different proposals in an attempt to progress on negotiations,” Reuters quoted an unnamed source as saying, but the source added: “An agreement is not expected imminently however.”

The Qatar-based political head of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, was expected in Egypt on Wednesday to talk to security officials there about another hostage swap deal, and Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, confirmed Israel’s interest in a revived hostage deal.

“Israel is willing to enter another humanitarian pause and bring in additional humanitarian aid in order to bring back the hostages, so the entire responsibility for this issue lies with Sinwar [the Hamas leader in Gaza] and his people,” Herzog told the Washington-based Atlantic Council thinktank on Tuesday.

But the Israeli president also made clear that Israel would contemplate a humanitarian pause in the fighting only in the context of a hostage deal.

If Hamas rejected the deal, he said, Israel would continue its offensive on Gaza “with no limitations.”

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