US pushes back against French resolution to halt Mideast fighting

A diplomatic stand-off seen at the United Nations between France and the United States.
Thursday 20/05/2021
French President Emmanuel Macron (R) speaks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi as he leaves after talks on the escalating conflict in Gaza, in Paris, May 19, 2021. (AFP)

NEW YORK / UNITED NATIONS--The US mission to the United Nations said it “will not support actions that we believe undermine efforts to de-escalate” violence between Israel and Palestinian militants when asked on Wednesday about a French push for a Security Council resolution.

France circulated a draft text to council members on Wednesday, diplomats said.

French President Emmanuel Macron and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was in Paris for summits on Africa, had held discussions in Paris earlier this week on the proposed resolution. Jordan’s King Abdullah II took part in the discussions via video-conference.

“The three countries agreed on three simple elements: the shooting must stop, the time has come for a ceasefire and the UN Security Council must take up the issue,” the Elysee Palace said, Tuesday.

The French draft, seen by Reuters, demands an immediate cessation of hostilities and condemns “the indiscriminate firing of rockets against civilian areas” without laying blame. It urges protection of civilians and revival of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians with the aim of creating two states.

The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with east Jerusalem as its capital, all territory captured by Israel in 1967.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he hoped the 15-member body could vote as soon as possible. A resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by Russia, China, France, the United States or Britain to pass.

French President Emanuel Macron, right, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi attend video conference in Paris with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, on screen, May 18, 2021. (AP)
French President Emanuel Macron, right, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi attend video conference in Paris with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, on screen, May 18, 2021. (AP)

The United States has traditionally shielded its ally Israel at the United Nations. US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told her UN counterparts on Tuesday that a “public pronouncement right now” by the council would not help calm the crisis.

When asked about the French push for a resolution, a spokesperson for the US mission to the United Nations on Wednesday reaffirmed its position had not changed.

“We’ve been clear and consistent that we are focused on intensive diplomatic efforts underway to bring an end to the violence and that we will not support actions that we believe undermine efforts to de-escalate,” the spokesperson said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue fighting against Gaza militants after US President Joe Biden urged him on Wednesday to seek a “de-escalation” after ten days of fighting between Israel and Hamas militants and other groups in Gaza.

France made its move at the United Nations after Washington repeatedly opposed a Security Council statement, which has to be agreed by consensus. French diplomats believe a resolution could raise pressure on the parties to end hostilities and would complement other diplomatic initiatives.

“We think a unified and strong voice from the Security Council actually carries weight, not only in this situation, but in other situations of conflict,” a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

Analysts say the conflict in the Middle East has stirred up a diplomatic stand-off at the United Nations between France and the United States, the first open tension between the two allies since Joe Biden took power.

France’s latest proposal, announced in a statement from Paris on Tuesday evening, quickly drew a firm response from the United States, signalling it would wield its veto again if needed.

A US spokesperson at the UN told AFP “we are focused on intensive diplomatic efforts underway to bring an end to the violence and that we will not support actions that we believe undermine efforts to de-escalate.”

At the same time, Biden announced he had directly told Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he expects “significant de-escalation” on Wednesday, highlighting the contrasting approaches to the conflict.

 Multilateralism rings hollow 

France did not suggest any date for a vote on its proposed resolution and the draft text appeared to have not been widely circulated among the 15-member Security Council.

The tactics raised suggestions it was an attempt to increase pressure on the US,  or to underline that Biden was not meeting his pledge to have a more multilateral approach to international affairs than his predecessor Donald Trump.

“It’s a bit strange considering the expectation that we all had for the Americans to return to multilateral diplomacy,” one UN ambassador said on condition of anonymity.

“We also thought that the United States would be keen to show the relevance of the Security Council in situations like this.”

Another said that “we are just asking the US to support a statement by the Security Council that would pretty much say similar things which are being said bilaterally from Washington.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament on Wednesday that “the American position will be quite decisive … It is true that we have seen the United States a little behind all this.”

The palpable tension between France and the United States could leave traces and affect other issues.

The two countries have also disagreed this week on whether to give assistance to the anti-jihadist force G5 Sahel.

France, which is heavily engaged politically and militarily in the region, has been campaigning for years for financial, logistical and operational support from the UN to the force’s 5,000 under-equipped soldiers, provided by Niger, Chad, Mauritania, Mali and Burkina Faso.

Trump’s administration had categorically refused and France had hoped for more support after Biden took office in January.

But the US again opposed the French stance, instead backing bilateral aid.

On the Middle East, the Security Council has been widely criticised for failing to yet adopt a declaration, with the United States, a staunch Israel ally, already rejecting three statement drafts proposed by China, Norway and Tunisia which called for an end to the fighting.

When France announced its draft proposal, the Elysee Palace said “the shooting must stop, the time has come for a ceasefire and the UN Security Council must take up the issue.”