Ambassador Robert Wood

Pre-Vote Address to the UN Security Council on a New Ceasefire Resolution in Gaza

delivered 8 December 2023, UN Headquarters, New York, NY


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Secretary-General Guterres, for your briefing.

For the past two months, this Council has been engaged in continuous meetings on the topics highlighted in your recent letter. In parallel, and even as we have supported the right of another Member State to defend its people against heinous atrocities and acts of terrorism, the United States -- at the highest levels -- has undertaken intensive diplomacy to save lives and lay a foundation for a durable peace.

American diplomacy opened the way for the first trucks that flowed into Gaza with aid. In partnership with Qatar and Egypt, it helped reunite more than 100 hostages with their loved ones and dramatically expanded aid to civilians in Gaza during a seven-day long humanitarian pause.

Hamas, however, has a different set of goals. Its refusal to release young women hostages led to a breakdown in the pause and resumption of the fighting.

This Councilís failure to condemn Hamasís October 7th terrorist attacks -- including its acts of sexual violence and other unthinkable evils -- is a serious moral failure. And it underscores the fundamental disconnect between the discussions that we have been having in this Chamber and the realities on the ground.

An undeniable part of that reality is that if Israel unilaterally laid down its weapons today, as some Member States have called for, Hamas would continue to hold hostages: women and children, elderly men -- many of whom, according to survivor accounts, are being subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment.

And as of today, Hamas continues to pose a threat to Israel and remain in charge of Gaza. That is not a threat that any one of our governments would allow to continue to remain on our own borders -- not after the worst attack on our people in several decades.

For that reason, while the United States strongly supports a durable peace in which both Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security, we do not support calls for an immediate ceasefire. This would only plant the seeds for the next war because Hamas has no desire to see a durable peace, to see a two-state solution.

Colleagues, I am pained by the suffering that we have witnessed over the last two months. Even when we as governments are compelled to take up arms and protect our people from the most heinous acts of terrorism and violence, war is tragic.

It is tragic for the families of the hostages who await word on the fate of their loved ones. We are doing everything possible to free the remaining hostages and reiterate our expectation that the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] be permitted to access and provide medical treatment to the hostages held by Hamas and other extremist groups. The war is equally tragic for civilians in Gaza. The scale of civilian suffering is devastating and heartbreaking.

Hamas intentionally embeds itself within civilian areas. But that does not in any way change the fact that how Israel defends itself matters. We have been unequivocal: Israel must respect international humanitarian law and conduct its operations in a way that minimizes civilian harm.

To back up these words and help protect civilians, we have supported establishing a more effective humanitarian deconfliction mechanism with the UN. And we are monitoring its implementation. This is a moral imperative and strategic imperative. You can only win in urban warfare by protecting civilians.

In every conversation, we also have underscored that Israel must avoid further mass displacement of civilians in the south of Gaza, many of whom previously fled violence.

Civilians must be provided adequate time and opportunity to move, including through corridors that allow people to move safely from defined areas of hostilities. Israel must further ensure sufficient humanitarian support exists for displaced individuals.

Finally, civilians displaced in Gaza must have an opportunity to return home as soon as conditions permit.  There must be no enduring internal displacement or reduction in Gazaís territory. Under no circumstances will the United States support the forced relocation of Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank.

Although the extended humanitarian pause has ended -- again, by Hamasís choice -- we have been clear that humanitarian aid must not only continue; it must be expanded.

We welcome the Israeli governmentís decision to open Kerem Shalom for inspections and screening of humanitarian goods. We will continue to be in touch with Israel to ensure this happens, and on the timeline committed.

We also welcome the Israeli governmentís decision to ensure the provision of fuel that meets requisite needs to sustain the humanitarian assistance operation, including vital civilian infrastructure. Both of these outcomes are a result of intensive U.S. engagement with all parties and are consistent with Resolution 2712. They lay the foundation to expand sustained, desperately needed humanitarian aid.

Of course, humanitarian aid cannot be delivered if humanitarian workers are not protected. And all parties have an obligation to protect UN and humanitarian personnel. We offer our deepest condolences to all the families, friends, and colleagues of UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] staff who lost their lives since October 7.

Attacks against UN shelters and facilities are unacceptable. We have also continued to press that work journalists do in conflict settings is vital and they too must be protected. Israel must avoid damage to civilian infrastructure like hospitals, power stations, water facilities, and telecommunications infrastructure.

Regarding the regional dimensions of this conflict, we are concerned by the renewed violence along the Blue Line. Restoring calm there is of utmost importance, as is fully implementing Security Council Resolution 1701.

Moreover, we condemn the recent attacks by Houthis against three separate commercial vessels operating in international waters on the southern Red Sea.

Consistent with Iranís long-term support and encouragement of the Houthisí destabilizing actions in the region, we know that Iran was engaged in planning Houthi operations. Iran has the choice to provide or withhold this support, without which the Houthis would struggle to effectively track and strike commercial vessels navigating shipping lanes through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

We welcome the Councilís press statement condemning these attacks and underlining the importance of navigational rights and freedoms of all vessels in the Red Sea. We are engaged in intensive consultations with
partners and allies to determine the appropriate next steps.

The United States has also been clear about the dangers from the rise in extremist violence committed by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank. Violent extremist settlers must be held accountable for violent acts. And so, the United States is implementing a new visa restriction policy targeting individuals believed to have been involved in or meaningfully contributed to undermining peace, security, or stability in the West Bank.

President Biden has been clear: The Palestinian people deserve a state of their own and a future free from Hamas. And a two-state solution is the only way to guarantee the long-term security of both the Israeli and the Palestinian people.1

Members of this Council advocating for resolutions have an obligation to explain how their proposals will break the cycle of unceasing violence and support the steps we all agree are necessary to lay the foundation
for a more peaceful and secure future so that history does not keep repeating itself.

Our goal should not simply be to stop the war for today. It should be to end the war forever, break the cycle of unceasing violence, and build something stronger in Gaza and across the Middle East so that history does not keep repeating itself.2

As has been the case since day one of this crisis, the United States will continue to use all its influence to encourage the reunification of hostages with their loved ones and the further expansion of aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza who have suffered tremendous losses.

We will continue pressing for the protection of civilians as Israel pursues legitimate military objectives. And we will not give up on a future where Hamas does not control Gaza, which is untenable for Israelís and the regionís security and the well-being of the Palestinian people.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Post-Vote Address to the UN Security Council on a New Ceasefire Resolution in Gaza

delivered 8 December 2023, UN Headquarters, New York, NY


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Thank you, Mr. President.

Colleagues, despite a rushed process and lack of appropriate consultation by the [provisional] resolutionís authors, the United States engaged in good faith on this text. We proposed language with an eye toward a constructive resolution that would have reinforced the life-saving diplomacy we have undertaken since October 7; increased opportunities for humanitarian aid to enter Gaza; encouraged the release of hostages and the resumption of humanitarian pauses; and laid a foundation for a durable peace.

Unfortunately, nearly all of our recommendations were ignored. And the result of this rushed process was an imbalanced resolution that was divorced from reality, that would not move the needle forward, on the ground, in any concrete way. And so, we regretfully could not support it.

We still cannot comprehend why the resolutionís authors declined to include language condemning Hamasís horrific terrorist attack on Israel on October 7, an attack that killed over 1200 people -- women, children, the elderly, people from a range of nationalities, burned alive, gunned down, subject to obscene sexual violence.

We are very disappointed that for the victims of these heinous acts, the resolutionís authors offered not their condolences, nor condemnation of their murderers. Itís unfathomable. Nor is there condemnation of the sexual violence unleashed by Hamas on October 7.

Over the last 20 years, this Council has repeatedly underscored the need to take seriously all reports of conflict-related sexual violence. Yet this Council and many of its Members have been conspicuously silent in response to reports that Hamas committed acts of sexual and gender-based violence on October 7. These incidents must be investigated and condemned, just as we do in any other conflict.

Equally disappointing is that the authors declined to add language reaffirming that the ICRC must be permitted to access and provide medical treatment to the hostages still held by Hamas terrorists and other extremists.

The resolution also fails to encourage a resumption of humanitarian pauses, to allow for the release of hostages and an increase of aid. This formula has worked. It could resume very quickly, if Hamas agreed to release women and civilian hostages.

This text also failed to acknowledge that Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorism, consistent with international law. This is a right to which all states are entitled. As I stated earlier today, no country could or should tolerate what Hamas did on October 7. If any of our own countries had been attacked in this way, we would all expect this Council to reaffirm our right to protect our citizens.

Perhaps most unrealistically, this resolution retains a call for an unconditional ceasefire. I explained in my remarks this morning why this not only -- why this is not only unrealistic but dangerous. It would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on October 7.

Colleagues, a senior Hamas official recently stated the group intends to repeat the vile acts of October 7, quote, ďagain and again and again,Ē unquote. And yet, this resolution essentially says Israel should just tolerate this. That it should allow this terror to go unchecked. Thatís not tenable. Itís not realistic. And itís a recipe for disaster -- for Israel, for the Palestinians, and for the entire region.

As long as Hamas clings to its ideology of destruction, any ceasefire is at best temporary, and is certainly not peace. And any ceasefire that leaves Hamas in control of Gaza would deny Palestinian civilians the chance to build something better for themselves.

For that reason, although the United States strongly supports a durable peace in which both Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security, we do not support this resolutionís call for an unsustainable ceasefire that will only plant the seeds for the next war.

Colleagues, like you, I am heartbroken by the images out of Gaza and the deaths of many thousands of civilians, including children. Every innocent Palestinian life lost is a tragedy that rips apart families and communities. It goes without saying that the United States supports the renewal of humanitarian pauses to enable the release of and the provision of additional aid even as we seek an end to this war not only for one day or one week, but forever.

Let us be clear: It is the rejection by the resolutionís author of the United Statesí sensible -- indeed, essential -- proposals that has deprived this Council of an opportunity to support the tough work necessary to break the cycle of violence and to lay the foundation for a more peaceful and secure future.  The United States will continue the hard work of diplomacy: to free hostages; to increase protection of civilians; to expand humanitarian aid; and to create an opportunity for Palestinians and Israelis to live side by side in peace and security.

As well, we need to redouble our collective efforts to surge humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people and create conditions so that humanitarian assistance can reach people who need it, who are in desperate need of food, of water, of shelter. We are working toward that every day, with Israel, Egypt, the UN, and others.

As President Biden reiterated last week, quote: ďA two-state solution is the only way to guarantee the long-term security of both the Israeli and the Palestinian people,Ē unquote.3 We will continue to work towards this goal because as Secretary Blinken has said, "that is the only way to ensure lasting security for a Jewish and democratic Israel, the only way to ensure that the Palestinians achieve their legitimate aspirations for a state of their own.Ē4

Thank you, Mr. President.

1 Stated on various occasions, including in this recent address to the nation: "And as I said in Israel: As hard as it is, we cannot give up on peace. We cannot give up on a two-state solution. Israel and Palestinians equally deserve to live in safety, dignity, and peace."

2 Artful use of epistrophe ("...history does not keep repeating itself") in that it includes a meta-reference both to the conflict at hand and to itself

Statement on X (formerly Twitter): "A two-state solution is the only way to guarantee the long-term security of both the Israeli and the Palestinian people. To make sure Israelis and Palestinians alike live in equal measure of freedom and dignity, we will not give up on working towards that goal."

4 Press Conference in Tel Aviv on the Israel-Hams War

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