🌍 The US vetoes latest UN Security Council ceasefire resolution on Gaza

Plus: Messi apologises to Chinese fans

Hi Intriguer. On the ground in DC, I’m hearing that North Korea’s unnerving behaviour is now worrying folks at the US State Department more than in recent decades.

But it’s hard to focus the world’s attention on the possibility of conflict there given the reality of wars elsewhere. And that goes to a point I’m hearing from former colleagues all around the world - it’s unclear if there’s enough government ‘bandwidth’ to handle each new crisis.

We’ll keep you posted on what’s going on with North Korea. In the meantime, today’s briefing gives you what you need to know about the latest failed UN Security Council resolution on a Gaza ceasefire.

- Helen Zhang, Co-Founder

PS - Speaking of the UN, on Friday we’ll spill the tea on its key New York power players. It’ll be free for anyone who refers a friend to Intrigue this week! Simply use your unique referral code down below.

TODAY’S NEWS

US to impose sanctions on Russia following Navalny's death. The White House says it’ll announce a “major sanctions package” against Russia in response to last week’s death of jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny. National security advisor Jake Sullivan says the sanctions will cover “a range of different elements of the Russian defense industrial base and sources of revenue for the Russian economy that power Russia’s war machine.”

HSBC quarterly profits slide 80%. Europe’s biggest bank says its Q4 2023 profits dropped to $1bn from $5bn a year earlier, largely due to a write-down of its stake in China's Bank of Communications. Not to worry: HSBC’s pre-tax annual profits also rose 78% thanks to higher interest rates.

Israel expands road dividing Gaza. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Israeli army is building an east-west corridor through central Gaza, to enable it to keep projecting military power into the strip “for some time”. The move is amplifying concerns about Israel’s longer-term plans in Gaza.

Coalition deal in Pakistan. Two major military-backed parties have finally reached an agreement to form a coalition government, naming former leader Shehbaz Sharif as prime minister. Parliamentary candidates for another former leader (Imran Khan), who won the most seats despite largely having to register as independents, accused the two parties of stealing their mandate to rule.

Two key hearings this week. The International Court of Justice is entering its third day of hearings on Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank, following a referral by the UN General Assembly last year. Also this week, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is making a last-ditch attempt in the UK High Court to appeal his extradition to the US, where he’s wanted under the Espionage Act.

South Africa sets election date. Authorities have announced the country will hold its general elections on 29 May. The vote is shaping up to be the most competitive race in recent times.

TOP STORY

The US vetoes latest UN Security Council ceasefire resolution on Gaza

Canva AI prompt: A phone call between two world leaders

The US again used its veto power to block a UN Security Council resolution on a Gaza ceasefire yesterday (Tuesday, local New York time).

Why?

Algeria (a non-permanent Council member) had been driving negotiations for weeks, culminating in yesterday’s proposal calling for an “immediate” ceasefire, “unhindered” humanitarian access, "unscrupulous" compliance with international law, “unconditional” release of hostages, and condemning "all acts of terrorism".

But the US had been asking Algeria to hold off on any Council vote, arguing it risked derailing parallel efforts to negotiate a broader Israel-Hamas deal.

So Algeria had duly hit pause for weeks, until Qatar announced on Saturday that these parallel mediation efforts between Israel and Hamas weren’t actually going too well. So Algeria hit play again.

The US warned it would veto Algeria’s resolution but then, in a surprise to almost everyone, circulated its own alternative draft with some intriguing similarities:

  • In a first for the US, it included the word 'ceasefire' - a term it’s previously avoided, arguing it infringed on Israel's right to self-defence

  • The text also opposed Israel’s planned ground operation in Rafah, and

  • It condemned Israeli ministers calling "for the resettlement of Gaza".

However, the US resolution also had some key differences, including:

  • A ceasefire “as soon as practicable” (instead of "immediate")

  • Directly linking any ceasefire to Hamas releasing its hostages, and

  • Condemning the Hamas attacks on Israel (something the Council hasn’t yet actually agreed to do).

Notwithstanding this US curveball and America’s veto power on the Council, Algeria still brought its resolution to a vote yesterday. Why?

That's partly how the Council works. Forcing a failed vote still achieves an objective - in this case, giving the world an image of Israeli and US isolation, potentially forcing a change in their approach.

So what happens now?

The UN General Assembly (where all member states have a seat) can potentially convene a debate, calling on the US to justify its veto.

Algeria could also put its resolution to a vote in the General Assembly - it'd be non-binding, but would again illustrate the degree of US and Israeli isolation.

And the US could put its own draft to a Council vote, though it's said “we don’t believe in a rush to a vote”, particularly while parallel mediation efforts play out.

INTRIGUE’S TAKE

Folks might recall after the Israel-Hamas fighting back in 2021, President Biden phoned Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and reportedly said “hey, man, we’re out of runway here… it’s over.” Netanyahu then agreed to a ceasefire.

Many have been waiting for another hey mancall this time, and there are certainly signs President Biden is running out of patience. But as we’ve said before, there are also signs that this type of call could still be far off.

From Israel’s perspective, Hamas broke the 2021 ceasefire with its 2023 massacre, so any phone calls in 2024 should be demanding that Hamas release the hostages, lay down its arms, and end the war it started. From a Palestinian perspective, the latest US veto makes it a partner in genocide.

And in the US, support for Israel is still one of the few bipartisan positions left in DC - it's hard to see that changing in an election year, though there’s more dissent within the president's party over the human toll in Gaza.

So our sense is the US will double-down on what it clearly sees as the way out: parallel mediation efforts on an Israel-Hamas deal. Biden has reportedly spoken to key regional players several times this week and - right on cue - the White House coordinator for the Middle East is due to land in the region today.

Also worth noting:

  • Algeria’s Security Council resolution received 13 votes in favour, including from US allies like France, Japan, South Korea, and Slovenia. The UK abstained, and the US vetoed.

  • The latest figures out of Gaza put the death toll at 29,092. Hamas says around 6,000 of its combatants have been killed (Israel says the real number is twice that). Israel has also reported 234 of its troops killed since October.

SUPPORTED BY FINANCE BUZZ

MEANWHILE, ELSEWHERE…

  1. 🇯🇵 Japan: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pledged long-term support for Ukraine’s reconstruction, announcing further aid and a new trade office in Kyiv. Kishida has repeatedly said that “Ukraine today could be East Asia tomorrow”.

  2. 🇪🇸 Spain: A man who was shot dead in Madrid is believed to have been Maksim Kuzminov, a Russian helicopter pilot who made a high-profile defection to Ukraine last year. He had been offered asylum in Ukraine though reportedly opted to move abroad under a fake name. 

  3. 🇸🇬 Singapore: The Singapore Airshow, Asia’s top aviation event, kicked off yesterday (Tuesday) with the official debut of China’s first ‘home-grown’ passenger jet. Beleaguered US-based company Boeing will showcase its defence offerings this year, but no passenger jets.

  4. 🇭🇹 Haiti: A Haitian judge has issued 50 arrest warrants over the assassination of the former Haitian president in 2021. The names include the late president’s widow, who was hurt in the attack and has criticised previous related arrests as political persecution. 

  5. 🇮🇱 Israel: Israel’s GDP contracted by 5% in the final quarter of last year - twice as much as expected. The statistics bureau says Israel’s conflict with Hamas led to drops in spending, travel and investment, while Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping have eroded imports and exports.

📢 Our very own John, Helen, and Jeremy will be trialling a new live interactive TV format tomorrow to chat about what’s happening around the world. Intriguers are welcome to tune in!

VIDEO OF THE DAY

Thought sport wasn’t political? Think again. 

Argentinian soccer star Lionel Messi has uploaded a video to Chinese social media to refute allegations that he skipped a recent match in Hong Kong for political reasons. The footballer reiterated that an inflamed adductor muscle was the real reason behind his decision to remain on the bench. 

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