Netanyahu cancels Israeli delegation to Washington in anger over US's UNSC Gaza ceasefire vote

Netanyahu cancels Israeli delegation to Washington in anger over US's UNSC Gaza ceasefire vote
Israel's prime minister has hit back at the US's decision to abstain in the UN Security Council vote on Gaza by cancelling a delegation's trip to Washington
4 min read
26 March, 2024
As the course of Israel's war on Gaza has intensified there has been a developing rift between the two historic allies [GETTY]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cancelled an official delegation visit to Washington in response to the US' abstention in a UN Security Council vote on Monday calling for a Gaza ceasefire, in another sign of growing tensions between the two allies.

The US has vetoed almost every call for a Gaza ceasefire at the UN since the war began in October but on Monday allowed a motion for an 'immediate ceasefire' for the month of Ramadan by abstaining. The vote passed with the other 14 countries on the UNSC voting in favour, ending a long battle for unanamity on the issue with a round of applause from the chamber.

An Israeli delegation was due to head to the US to discuss plans for Israel’s expected offensive in Gaza's southern city of Rafah, where around 1.5 million displaced civilians are sheltering and living off meagre aid supplies.

But on Monday night, a statement from Netanyahu’s office claimed the US was harming Israel's stated aim of destroying Hamas, and that the vote undermined attempts to retrieve the around 100 captives in Gaza.

"In light of the change in the US position, PM Netanyahu decided that the delegation will remain in Israel," the statement read.

"Today's resolution gives Hamas hope that international pressure will force Israel to accept a ceasefire without the release of our hostages."

Foreign Minister Israel Katz declared the US decision was "a moral and ethical mistake" in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio on Tuesday.

In response, White House security advisor John Kirby described Netanyahu's decision as "disappointing" and said that the administration was "kind of perplexed by this" during a press briefing on Monday.

"It's a nonbinding resolution. So, there's no impact at all on Israel and Israel’s ability to continue to go after Hamas," Kirby said.

He added that the decision to abstain "does not represent a change at all in our policy", saying that the US did so because the motion did not condemn Hamas.

The disagreement comes while Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant is in Washington for meetings with top security aid Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

Although the US is Israel's staunchest supporter, its brutal offensive in Gaza has become a point of contention in recent weeks.

There has been speculation that Washington might consider withholding military aid if a ground invasion to Rafah went ahead but Kirby on Monday said that the US is still providing Israel with "the capabilities they need to defend themselves".

He also said that the subject was one of the reasons for Gallant's visit.

Israel's near six-month war on Gaza has killed over 32,000 people and left the majority of the coastal enclave uninhabitable.

Earlier this month, a UN-backed report found that northern Gaza was submerged in famine-like conditions, while aid agencies have warned that thousands more will die if the Rafah invasion goes ahead.

The UN Security Council resolution, which was tabled by ten non-permanent members, called for an "immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan respected by all parties" which leads to "a lasting sustainable ceasefire".

It also demanded the immediate release of captives in Gaza and ensuring access to UN medical and humanitarian needs.

Netanyahu's decision to pull the Washington delegation will be taken as a clear sign of its unhappiness at the UN Security Council vote, which broke a five-month impasse in which the US vetoed several calls for ending the war.

The decision has also added to domestic tensions between Netanyahu and his war cabinet partners.

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Senior Minister Benny Gantz said that the delegation should still go ahead, and that the premier should meet with President Biden.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Yair Lapid criticised the prime minister’s decision as "harmful" and "unnecessary" in a series of posts on X on Monday.

"There is one question we should ask ourselves about the crisis that Netanyahu has led to with the US: Is it good for Israel or bad for Israel? The unequivocal answer is: Bad for Israel," Lapid wrote.

He said Israel should coordinate with "the biggest power in the world and our most important ally".

Israel's war cabinet has been marked by bitter divisions between members while a key Israeli official quit the government on Tuesday.