After nearly a week of intense negotiations, the United States said on Thursday night that it was ready to support a United Nations Security Council resolution that would call for more desperately needed aid to enter the Gaza Strip. A vote was not expected until Friday at the earliest.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters that the United States had “worked hard and diligently over the course of the past week” with the countries that had proposed the resolution, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, to ensure that “we put a mechanism on the ground that will support humanitarian assistance and we’re ready to vote for it.”
“I won’t share how I will vote,” she said, but added that if the resolution were put forward as written, it would be one “we can support.”
Earlier on Thursday, a U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the talks, said that high-level negotiators from Washington and Cairo had been seeking common ground on who would inspect the aid for weapons and other contraband before it entered Gaza.
The Security Council said in a statement earlier on Thursday that ambassadors were still negotiating over the latest version of a draft resolution written by the United Arab Emirates that includes steps intended to allow the safe and unhindered delivery of aid to civilians in the Gaza Strip.
The Security Council this week has repeatedly delayed a vote on the resolution amid concerns from the United States that allowing the U.N. to inspect aid into Gaza would leave Israel with no role in the process, making the system unworkable. Other members, hoping to avoid a veto by the United States, have gone back to renegotiate the parameters.
A vote on the measure was originally scheduled for Monday, but was held off several times as Security Council diplomats engaged in intense negotiations intended to win U.S. support. Other Council members, including European allies of the United States, were growing frustrated at the United States, contending it was leaving them out of the talks between Cairo and Washington.
The United States, one of five permanent members of the council with the ability to single-handedly derail the passage of legally binding resolutions, has often stood alone in siding with Israel, offering its close Middle East ally protection from the Council’s opprobrium.
The United States vetoed two previous cease-fire resolutions, arguing that Israel has the right to defend itself after Hamas’s deadly attack on Oct. 7. Stopping Israel’s offensive, the United States has said, would allow Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, to regroup and plan more attacks.
Earlier on Thursday, Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for the U.N. secretary general, told reporters the Council was in “deep discussion.”
“Obviously, what we would want to see is something that would facilitate the immediate, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid,” Mr. Dujarric said. He added that “the most helpful thing for the delivery of humanitarian aid in a sustained high volume would be a humanitarian cease-fire immediately.”
The Biden administration has recently called on Israel to limit the number of civilian casualties in Gaza and scale back its assault amid international condemnation of the mounting death toll and the catastrophic humanitarian crisis in the territory.
A key sticking point for the United States has been the establishment of a system that would put the U.N. in charge of inspecting aid entering Gaza, according to diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the negotiations.
The United States has said Israel must be involved in checking cargo for weapons. The United Arab Emirates and Egypt — which controls the main entry point for aid into Gaza — argue that U.N. inspections would speed up the process, ensuring more food, water, medicine and other necessities reach desperate Palestinians in Gaza.
Supporters of the resolution say the U.N. monitors and delivers humanitarian aid in many other conflict zones around the world. For example, the Security Council, with the backing of the United States, passed a resolution to allow U.N. officials into northern Syria to inspect and deliver aid.
“The U.N. has done this kind of work before,” said Lana Nusseibeh, the U.A.E. ambassador to the U.N., who was helping to lead negotiations on the resolution. “It is now up to us to ensure that it has robust backing to respond to this catastrophe in Gaza.”
But the Israelis are wary of handing over the inspections to or entrusting the U.N. with their security. The border between Egypt and Gaza has been a frequent site of weapons smuggling in the past. And a U.N. peacekeeping force along Israel’s border with Lebanon has failed to prevent frequent skirmishes between the Israeli military and Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia.
The Israelis, who say Hamas rebuffed a recent proposal to pause the fighting to allow for the delivery of aid and the exchange of hostages, have previously said they would not stop their campaign unless a deal for the hostages was included.
The Security Council was trying to craft the resolution more than two months after Israel launched a military offensive to crush Hamas following the armed group’s Oct. 7 assault, in which 1,200 people, most of them civilians, were killed and about 240 were taken hostage, according to Israeli officials.
Health authorities in Gaza say that about 20,000 people, most of them women and children, have been killed in Israel’s campaign, and the U.N. has warned of a humanitarian disaster as the territory’s civic and health care infrastructure collapses.
U.N. officials said this month that nearly 60 percent of people in Gaza were on the verge of starvation, and they issued a new warning on Thursday that there was a “risk of famine” in the territory within the next six months.
The United Arab Emirates, the only Arab country currently serving on the 15-member Council, initially put forth a resolution that called for a “cessation of hostilities.” Later, it was reworked to call for “extended humanitarian pauses and corridors” to speed up the delivery of aid. The resolution also called for the release of the hostages in Gaza.
Israel has come under heightened internal pressure to quickly reach a deal that could free the hostages still being held in Gaza, particularly after three of them were mistakenly shot by Israeli soldiers last week. Israel says 129 hostages are still being held by Hamas.
Working through Egyptian and Qatari mediators, Israel and Hamas have been engaging in fragile negotiations over a possible truce and hostage deal.
But they have not reached any agreement since a weeklong truce collapsed on Dec. 1. During that temporary cease-fire, more than 100 people kidnapped during the Oct. 7 attack were freed in exchange for more than 200 Palestinians imprisoned or detained in Israel. The temporary truce also allowed more aid to flow into Gaza.
Since then, humanitarian aid has trickled through Rafah, a main border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, after a complicated screening system in which trucks have to first travel to Israel for inspection, then return to Egypt and cross into Gaza.
As the Council continued its internal debate, Israeli officials sent mixed signals on Thursday about their vision for the future of the Gaza Strip, suggesting that Israel might be amenable to a reformed Palestinian Authority governing the territory, but later saying that the government’s stance had been misinterpreted.
Questions surrounding the future governance of Gaza have fueled tensions between President Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.
Mr. Biden has said that the Palestinian Authority, which governs part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, should also govern Gaza after the war as a step toward a Palestinian state. Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly ruled out allowing the authority to control Gaza and has said Israel must be responsible for security in Gaza for the foreseeable future.
Tzachi Hanegbi, Mr. Netanyahu’s national security adviser, appeared to soften that stance in a column published on Wednesday in Elaph, a Saudi-owned, Arabic-language news outlet.
“Israel acknowledges the international community’s and regional states’ desire to integrate the Palestinian Authority the day after Hamas,” he wrote. “We emphasize that this process will necessitate a fundamental reform of the Palestinian Authority.”
But in a briefing later, a senior Israeli official said that the column had been misinterpreted, and that the government’s view had not changed.
“We are aware of the fact that everybody would really like the Palestinian Authority to be part of the solution of Gaza on the day after, but it’s not possible with the way it is now,” the senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said the authority cannot be a partner because it does not “participate in a vision of reconciliation.”
Roni Caryn Rabin contributed reporting.