“Free Palestine”

UN Resolution–One Step Forward

Farnaz Fassihi

The United Nations General Assembly on May 10 [Friday] overwhelmingly adopted a resolution declaring that Palestinians qualify for full-member status at the United Nations, a highly symbolic move that reflects growing global solidarity with Palestinians and is a rebuke to Israel and the United States.

The resolution was approved by a vote of 143 to 9 with 25 nations abstaining. The Assembly broke into a big applause after the vote. The United States voted no.

The resolution was prepared by the United Arab Emirates, the current chair of the UN Arab Group. The 193-member General Assembly took on the issue of Palestinian membership after the United States in April vetoed a resolution before the Security Council to recognise full membership for a Palestinian state. The majority of Council members supported the move, but the United States said recognition of Palestinian statehood should be achieved through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Anger and frustration at the United States has been brewing for months among many senior UN officials and diplomats, including allies such as France, because Washington has repeatedly blocked cease-fire resolutions at the Security Council and has staunchly supported Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza, even as humanitarian suffering has mounted.

“The US is resigned to having another bad day at the UN,” said Richard Gowan, an expert on the United Nations for the International Crisis Group, a conflict prevention organisation. But he added that the resolution “gives the Palestinians a boost without creating a breakdown over whether they are or are not now UN members.”

The UN charter stipulates that the General Assembly can only grant full membership to a nation-state after the approval of the Security Council. Examples of that include the creation of the states of Israel and South Sudan. The resolution adopted on Friday explicitly states that the Palestinian issue is an exception and will not set precedent, language that was added during negotiations on the text when some countries expressed concern that Taiwan and Kosovo might follow a similar path to pursue statehood, diplomats said.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, told the Assembly ahead of the vote that Palestinians’ right to full membership at the UN and statehood “are not up for negotiations, they are our inherent rights as Palestinians.” He added that a vote against Palestinian statehood was a vote against the two-state solution.

Still, the resolution does provide new diplomatic perks to Palestinians. Palestinians can now sit among member states in alphabetical order; they can speak at General Assembly meetings on any topic instead of being limited to Palestinian affairs; they can submit proposals and amendments; and they can participate at UN conferences and international meetings organised by the Assembly and other United Nations entities.

Israel’s ambassador to the UN, GiladErdan, a sharp critic of the body, said voting for a Palestinian state would be inviting “a state of terror” in its midst and rewarding “terrorists” who killed Jewish civilians with privileges and called member states endorsing it “Jew haters.”

The resolution says that it “determines the State of Palestine is qualified for membership in the United Nations,” under its charter rules and recommends that the Security Council reconsider the matter with a favourable outcome.

Nate Evans, the spokesman for the US mission to the United Nations, said that if the Assembly refers the issue back to the Council, it would have the same outcome again, with the US blocking the move.

The Palestinians are currently recognised by the United Nations as a nonmember observer state, a status granted in 2012 by the General Assembly. They do not have the right to vote on General Assembly resolutions or nominate any candidates to UN agencies.

The Assembly session was not without moments of performative drama. Mr Gilad, Israel’s ambassador, held up the picture of Hamas’s military leader, YahyaSinwar, considered the architect of the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, with the word “President,” and then a transparent shredder, inserting a piece of paper inside it, and said the member states were “shredding the UN charter.”

Mr Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador, at the end of his speech raised his fist in the air, visibly choking back tears, and said, “Free Palestine.” The Assembly broke into applause.

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Vol 56, No. 50, Jun 9 - 15, 2024