UN assembly approves resolution granting Palestine new rights

UN assembly approves resolution granting Palestine new rights

The UN General Assembly voted by a wide margin on Friday to grant Palestine new “rights and privileges” and called on the Security Council to favourably reconsider its request to become the 194th member of the United Nations.

The 193-member world body approved the Arab and Palestinian-sponsored resolution by a vote of 143-9 with 25 abstentions.

The United States vetoed a widely backed council resolution on April 18 that would have paved the way for full United Nations membership for Palestine, a goal the Palestinians have long sought and Israel has worked to prevent.

US Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood made clear on Thursday that the Biden administration opposed the assembly resolution. The US was among the nine countries voting against it, along with Israel.

“We’ve been very clear from the beginning there is a process for obtaining full membership in the United Nations, and this effort by some of the Arab countries and the Palestinians is to try to go around that,” Wood said Thursday.

“We have said from the beginning the best way to ensure Palestinian full membership in the UN is to do that through negotiations with Israel. That remains our position.”

Under the UN Charter, prospective United Nations members must be “peace-loving,” and the Security Council must recommend their admission to the General Assembly for final approval. Palestine became a UN non-member observer state in 2012.

The resolution “determines” that Palestine is qualified for membership — dropping the original language that, in the General Assembly’s judgment, it is “a peace-loving state”. It therefore recommends that the Security Council reconsider its request “favourably”.

The renewed push for full Palestinian membership in the UN comes as the war in Gaza has put the more than 75-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict at centre stage.

At numerous council and assembly meetings, the humanitarian crisis facing the Palestinians in Gaza and the killing of more than 34,000 people in the territory, according to Gaza health officials, have generated outrage from many countries.

Russia and China's concerns

The original draft of the assembly resolution was changed significantly to address concerns not only by the US but also by Russia and China, according to three Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations were private.

The first draft would have conferred on Palestine “the rights and privileges necessary to ensure its full and effective participation” in the assembly’s sessions and UN conferences “on equal footing with member states.” It also made no reference to whether Palestine could vote in the General Assembly.

According to the diplomats, Russia and China, which are strong supporters of Palestine’s UN membership, were concerned that granting the list of rights and privileges detailed in an annex to the resolution could set a precedent for other would-be UN members — with Russia concerned about Kosovo and China about Taiwan.

Under longstanding legislation by the US Congress, the United States is required to cut off funding to UN agencies that give full membership to a Palestinian state — which could mean a cut-off in dues and voluntary contributions to the UN from its largest contributor.

The final draft drops the language that would put Palestine “on equal footing with member states.” And to address Chinese and Russian concerns, it would decide “on an exceptional basis and without setting a precedent” to adopt the rights and privileges in the annex.

The draft also adds a provision in the annex on the issue of voting, stating categorically: “The state of Palestine, in its capacity as an observer state, does not have the right to vote in the General Assembly or to put forward its candidature to United Nations organs.”

The final list of rights and privileges in the draft annex includes giving Palestine the right to speak on all issues not just those related to the Palestinians and Middle East, the right to propose agenda items and reply in debates, and the right to be elected as officers in the assembly’s main committees.

It would give the Palestinians the right to participate in UN and international conferences convened by the United Nations — but it drops their “right to vote” which was in the original draft.