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Israel cancels high-level talks in Washington after cease-fire vote clears the U.N.

The United Nations Security Council meets on the situation in the Middle East, including the war in Gaza, at U.N. headquarters in New York on Monday.
Angela Weiss
/
AFP via Getty Images
The United Nations Security Council meets on the situation in the Middle East, including the war in Gaza, at U.N. headquarters in New York on Monday.

Updated March 25, 2024 at 2:43 PM ET

JERUSALEM — The United Nations Security Council has voted 14-0 in favor of a resolution demanding a cease-fire in Gaza for the rest of Ramadan. The United States abstained from the vote, clearing the way for the measure to pass.

The U.S. decision to abstain drew a swift response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who cancelled a visit by an Israeli delegation that had been set to travel to Washington, D.C., for talks on Israel's planned military operation in Rafah, in southern Gaza.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu made it clear last night that if the US withdraws from its principled position, he will not send the Israeli delegation to the US. In light of the change in the American position, Prime Minister Netanyahu decided that the delegation would not go," the prime minister's office said in a statement.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Netanyahu's statement was "a bit surprising and unfortunate."

The U.S. abstention was seen as a sign of a growing rift between the two close allies. Washington is urging Israel not to launch an offensive in Rafah — where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering. Israel says it has to go in to destroy remaining Hamas battalions there.

The high-level delegation, led by Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi, was due to meet with Biden administration officials to hear U.S. concerns over the Rafah operation and discuss an alternative strategy.

Despite the cancellation, a planned visit by the Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant, continued. Gallant was in Washington on Monday to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and National Security Adivser Jake Sullivan.

What this resolution says

The cease-fire resolution calls for the immediate, unconditional release of all hostages taken captive by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people. Israel's military offensive in Gaza in response to the attack has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.

Ramadan is set to end in just over two weeks, on April 9, so if any cease-fire does manifest from the vote it may only be short-lived.

Monday's vote followed several failed attempts by the Security Council at brokering a cease-fire resolution — including one as recently as three days ago.

The U.S. had supported calls for a cease-fire only if they were directly connected to the release of some 130 hostages still in captivity under a deal being negotiated by diplomats from four nations.

"This resolution further explicitly recognizes the painstaking, non-stop negotiations being conducted by the Governments of Egypt, Israel, Qatar, and the United States to achieve such a release in the context of a ceasefire, which would also create space to surge more lifesaving humanitarian assistance for Palestinian civilians, and to build something more enduring," said Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement.

But because the final text of the resolution did not include "key language we view as essential, notably a condemnation of Hamas, we could not support it," Blinken added.

U.S Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield is now urging Security Council members to put pressure on Hamas to accept a deal being negotiated in Doha.

"We're getting closer to a deal for an immediate cease-fire with the release of all hostages, but we're not there yet," said Thomas-Greenfield after the vote.

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby was adamant that the vote did not reflect a change in U.S. policy.

"We have been clear and we've been consistent in our support for a cease-fire as part of a hostage deal," Kirby said on a call after the vote with reporters. He reiterated that because the final text did not include a condemnation of Hamas for the Oct. 7 attacks, the U.S. abstained rather than voting in favor of the resolution.

"It seems like the prime minister's office is choosing to create a perception of daylight here when they don't need to do that," Kirby said.

He added, "Of course we still have Israel's back."

Representatives for Hamas and Israeli are still in Qatar for indirect negotiations over a cease-fire, but remain far apart on several details.

Hamas said it welcomed the call from the Security Council for an immediate cease-fire, but called on the international body to pressure Israel to adhere to the cease-fire and stop the war.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, "This resolution must be implemented. Failure would be unforgivable."

Jaclyn Diaz reported from Jerusalem. Michele Kelemen reported from Washington, D.C. contributed to this story

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.