Updated May 10th, 2024 at 17:43 IST

UNGA to Vote on Resolution that Would Grant Palestine New 'Rights and Privileges'

With no veto power existing in the General Assembly, the resolution on Palestine is expected to be passed by a wide margin.

Palestine first applied to become a member of the United Nations back in 2011. | Image:AP
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United Nations: The UN General Assembly is expected to vote Friday on a resolution that would grant new “rights and privileges” to Palestine and call on the Security Council to favourably reconsider its request to become the 194th member of the United Nations.

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, and US deputy ambassador Robert Wood made clear Thursday the Biden administration is opposed to the assembly resolution.

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Under the UN Charter, prospective members of the United Nations 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.

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“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.”

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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, according to three Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations were private.

Changes and exceptions made in the assembly resolution draft

The draft resolution “determines” that the state of 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.

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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.

The original draft of the assembly resolution was changed significantly to address concerns not only by the US but also by Russia and China, the diplomats said.

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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.

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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 annexe 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 cutoff in dues and voluntary contributions to the UN from its largest contributor.

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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 annexe.

The draft also adds a provision in the annexe 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.”

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The final list of rights and privileges in the draft annexe includes giving Palestine the right to speak on all issues not just those related to the Palestinians and the 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.

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Long road to UN membership

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas first delivered the Palestinian Authority’s application for UN membership in 2011. It failed because the Palestinians didn’t get the required minimum support of nine of the Security Council’s 15 members.

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They went to the General Assembly and succeeded by more than a two-thirds majority in having their status raised from a UN observer to a non-member observer state.

That opened the door for the Palestinian territories to join the UN and other international organisations, including the International Criminal Court.

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In the Security Council vote on April 18, the Palestinians got much more support for full UN membership. The vote was 12 in favour, the United Kingdom and Switzerland abstaining, and the United States voting no and vetoing the resolution.

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Published May 10th, 2024 at 17:43 IST