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The Israel-Hamas War: Operation Iron Sword
The United Nations

(October 7, 2023 - Present)
By Mitchell Bard

No Humanitarian Pause
Vetoes and an Abstention
Security Council Adopts Biden Ceasefire Plan

No Humanitarian Pause

On October 18, 2023, the United States vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting between Hamas and Israel in Gaza. “The United States is disappointed this resolution made no mention of Israel’s right of self-defense,” said U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield. “Like every nation in the world, Israel has the inherent right of self-defense, as reflected in Article 51 of the UN Charter.”

The resolution also did not mention Hamas, saying only that the council “firmly condemns all violence and hostilities against civilians and all acts of terrorism.”

On October 26, a U.S. resolution condemning Hamas and calling for “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting was vetoed by China and Russia.

The resolution also did not mention Hamas, saying only that the council “firmly condemns all violence and hostilities against civilians and all acts of terrorism.”

The next day, the General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution calling for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities.” Israel and the United States voted against the resolution.

The UAE introduced a resolution on December 8 describing the humanitarian situation in Gaza as “catastrophic” and demanding “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.” This followed the decision by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to activate Article 99 of the UN Charter for the first time since 1989. According to the article, “the Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”

The United States opposed the resolution but used the threat of allowing it to pass as a lever to pressure Israel to increase humanitarian aid, including fuel. Still, the U.S. attempted to negotiate a change in the text, which would have condemned Hamas, but its recommendations were ignored, prompting a U.S. veto. Robert A. Wood, who was representing the United States on the Council, said the resolution for an unconditional and immediate cease-fire “was not only unrealistic, but dangerous — it would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on Oct. 7.”

The UN accused Israel of creating a humanitarian disaster and placing impossible demands on people to flee within a matter of hours. Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, said, “The United Nations has turned a blind eye to Hamas’ arming and its use of the civilian population and civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip as a hiding place for its weapons and murder, and now, instead of standing by Israel, whose citizens were slaughtered by Hamas terrorists and which tries to minimize harm to those not involved, it is preaching to Israel.”

Israel was further outraged and called for the resignation of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres after he blamed Israel for the Hamas attack and said Israel’s response was “collective punishment.”

On December 21, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2270 by a vote of 13-0, with the U.S. and Russia abstaining. To avoid a U.S. veto, the delegations negotiated a compromise whereby the Council called for increased humanitarian aid to Gaza but not “the urgent suspension of hostilities.” The resolution was also stripped of a provision that the UN exclusively monitor humanitarian relief, which Israel would not have allowed. It also called for the release of hostages and deplored attacks on civilians and terrorism without mentioning Hamas.


In January 2024, South Africa accused Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of actions that are “genocidal.” On January 26, 2024, the Court issued a decision calling on Israel to “take all measures within its power” to prevent genocide against the Palestinians. Israel was also instructed to prevent “the expulsion and forced displacement” of Gazans and deprivation of their access to food, water, medical supplies, and other humanitarian assistance. It further ordered that the state prevent and punish incitement to genocide. Israel was asked to report within one month on its compliance with the Court’s order.

On February 16, 2024, the ICJ rejected South Africa’s request for urgent measures to safeguard Rafah from the expected Israeli offensive. 

Another UN official, Martin Griffiths, the head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), drew rebukes from several countries and enraged the Israelis when he said, “I’ve worked with many, many different terrorist and insurgent groups....Hamas is not a terrorist group for us, of course, as you know. It’s a political movement.” 

His comments come only a few days after the special rapporteur for the Palestinians, Francesca Albanese, said victims of the October 7 attack “were not killed because of their Judaism, but in response to Israel’s oppression.” Israel subsequently banned her from entering the country.

On February 19, the United States proposed a draft Security Council resolution calling for “a temporary ceasefire 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.” It further “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 neighboring countries.” An Israeli ground operation it said “would have serious implications for regional peace and security, and therefore underscores that such a major ground offensive should not proceed under current circumstances.”

The draft also signals opposition to Israeli statements and plans by rejecting the idea of reestablishing Israeli settlements in Gaza or “reducing the  territory of Gaza, on a temporary or permanent basis, including through the establishment officially or unofficially of so-called buffer zones, as well as the widespread, systematic demolition of civilian infrastructure.”

The objection to a buffer zone is a serious rebuke of Israel’s insistence that such an area is a requirement to ensure the safety of civilians living near the border of Gaza.

International Crisis Group U.N. Director Richard Gowan called the draft a “warning shot for Netanyahu,” signaling that “Israel cannot rely on American diplomatic protection indefinitely.”

As harsh as the U.S. draft is, it was presented as an alternative to an Algerian resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire, which the U.S. said it would veto.

The Algerians went ahead and forced a vote on their draft, and the U.S. vetoed it. The only other country that did not support the resolution was the UK which abstained. A few days earlier, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. believes the best way to stop the fighting is to reach a deal for the release of the hostages that a temporary ceasefire would accompany.

In March, Arab nations were blocked by the United States from getting the Security Council to blame Israel for the death of Palestinians in a melee that occurred when Gazans swarmed a food convoy.

On March 4, the UN published its report on sexual abuse by Hamas of Israelis and hostages. A couple of days later, Reem Alsalem, the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, said she had not seen sufficient evidence that any rapes had occurred on October 7. She also admitted to not being aware that Israel was being bombarded every day with rockets.

Vetoes and an Abstention

On March 22, 2024, the United States introduced a Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire linked to a deal for the release of Israeli hostages. Eleven of the 15 council members voted for the resolution, but the Russia and China vetoes stopped its passage. Because this was the first time the U.S. was prepared to vote for a resolution on a ceasefire, it was viewed as a reflection of the deteriorating relations with Israel. The Chinese and Russian representatives said they opposed the resolution because it did not express opposition to Israel mounting a ground operation in Rafah.

Three days later, Israel was angered when the United States abstained on an alternative draft approved by the other 14 members of the Security Council that demanded “an immediate cease-fire” during Ramadan, “leading to a lasting sustainable cease-fire, and also the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.” The U.S. did not vote for the resolution because it did not mention Hamas. Israel read the text as failing to make the release of the hostages a prerequisite for a ceasefire, though the U.S. insisted it was. Amb. Thomas-Greenfield said, “A ceasefire of any duration must come with the release of hostages.”

Biden seemed to be straddling a line between his political need to appease progressives in the party who were demanding that he support a ceasefire and abandoning support for Israel’s need to destroy Hamas. Israel did not take it that way. Netanyahu had agreed in a phone call with Biden to send two of his closest aides—Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer and National Security Council head Tzachi Hanegbi—for meetings in Washington to discuss the planned ground operation in Rafah that the administration hoped to prevent. The prime minister’s office issued a statement, “The United States has abandoned its policy in the UN today....Today’s resolution gives Hamas hope that international pressure will force Israel to accept a ceasefire without the release of our hostages, thus harming both the war effort and the effort to release the hostages.” Consequently, he announced he would not send the delegation to Washington.

Security Council Adopts Biden Ceasefire Plan

On June 10, 2024, the UN Security Council adopted U.S.-led resolution 2735 by a vote of 14-0, with Russia abstaining, endorsing President Biden’s initiative to end the war and obtain the release of all Israeli hostages. The resolution reiterates the three-phase plan previously laid out by President Biden, with minor modifications after U.S. consultations with other Security Council members.

Two days later, the UN independent commission released a report accusing both Hamas and Israel of war crimes and abuses of international humanitarian law and human rights law. The report said Hamas “deliberately killed” civilians, “mistreated” hostages, and carried out “sexual and gender-based violence” against Israeli and foreign nationals. Israel, it said, had adopted a strategy that caused “immense numbers of civilian casualties and widespread destruction” in Gaza. It further accused Israel of “intent to cause maximum damage, disregarding distinction, proportionality and adequate precautions” and an “intentional and direct attack on the civilian population, particularly affecting women and children.”

The Israeli government said it “rejects the abhorrent and immoral accusations leveled against the IDF, both with regards to the military operation in Gaza and its initial response against Hamas terrorists in Israel. Hamas is a lawless terrorist organization. Israel is a democratic country that is committed to the rule of law. The IDF conducts itself in line with international law, including IHL, and has robust and independent mechanisms to monitor and investigate its actions.”

Table of Contents for Israel-Hamas War.