UN General Assembly set to back Palestine’s bid for membership

US representative says Biden administration, a close Israeli ally, is opposed to the resolution

Shweta Sharma
Friday 10 May 2024 10:04 BST
Pro-Palestine protesters clash with police at University of Texas

The UN General Assembly will vote on Friday on a resolution to grant membership to Palestine, a longstanding pursuit for the Palestinians that has faced staunch resistance from Israel and its allies.

The draft resolution has been put forward by the UAE in its capacity as the Arab Group’s chair for the month, and includes a call for the Palestinians to be given new “rights and privileges” within the UN. Palestine has been a UN non-member observer state since 2012.

The final text of the draft has been reached after amendments were made to try and alleviate the concerns of key member states, including the US, Russia and China.

Nonetheless, the US said late on Thursday that the Biden administration opposes the draft resolution, which still requires the approval of the UN Security Council before a state of Palestine could be granted full General Assembly membership.

Under the UN Charter, prospective members must be deemed "peace-loving”. The draft resolution does not explicitly say that Palestine is a “peace-loving state” in the General Assembly’s judgement – instead, simply that the body “determines” that it qualifies for membership. It recommends that the Security Council reconsider its request “favourably”.

On 18 April, the US vetoed a widely-backed council resolution that would have made Palestine a full member. During the vote, Britain and Switzerland abstained, while the other 12 council members voted in favour.

Robert Wood, US deputy ambassador to the UN, suggested American opposition to the resolution was based on a question of due process.

"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," Mr Wood said. "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."

But unlike the Security Council, there are no vetoes in the 193-member General Assembly and the resolution is expected to be approved by a large majority, three Western diplomats told the Associated Press.

The Palestinian UN mission in New York, in a letter to UN member states, said the adoption of the resolution would be a step towards a two-state solution in the Middle East.

It said it would "constitute a clear reaffirmation of support at this very critical moment for the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including the right to their independent state."

The renewed effort to secure full Palestinian membership in the UN comes amid a growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, one that may only be compounded further by an expected Israeli ground offensive into the refugee city of Rafah.

The humanitarian crisis confronting Palestinians in Gaza, coupled with the reported death toll of over 34,000 individuals in the territory, has drawn widespread condemnation in numerous Security Council and General Assembly sessions.

According to diplomats, Russia and China, which have called on Israel to cease its action in Gaza, 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.

The first draft 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”.

The final text in the draft has dropped the language that called for putting 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.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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