What lies beyond the Palestine vote

Haitham Nouri , Tuesday 14 May 2024

Haitham Nouri outlines the factors influencing various countries’ decisions during the United Nations General Assembly vote on Palestine’s full membership

What lies beyond the Palestine vote


The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) vote in support of Palestine’s request for full membership in the UN on 10 May was dubbed a “sweep” in numerous media reports.

As per Article IV of the UN Charter, membership in the UN, representing nearly all countries worldwide, “is open to all other peace-loving states which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgement of the organisation, are able and willing to carry out these obligations.”

The article adds that “the admission of any such state to membership in the United Nations will be effected by a decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.”

According to the United Nations website, the vote does not alter Palestine’s legal status in the United Nations from “a non-member state with observer status” but affirms its “eligibility” for membership under Article IV of the Charter, thereby asserting that it should be accepted as a member.

However, the vote’s outcome was not as expected since the Security Council failed to reach a consensus on sending a recommendation to the General Assembly for Palestine’s membership, primarily due to the US exercising its veto power against an Algerian proposal on this matter.

Consequently, the General Assembly, comprising all UN member states with voting rights, urged the Security Council to “reconsider the matter positively,” although the likelihood of this occurring remains uncertain.

Expressing “deep regret and concern,” the General Assembly highlighted that a single negative vote from one of the Security Council’s permanent members thwarted the adoption of a draft resolution that had garnered support from 12 UNSC members.

In the resolution, the UNGA reaffirmed the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, including the establishment of an independent state. It called upon the international community to intensify coordinated efforts to end the Israeli occupation that commenced in 1967 and to achieve a just, enduring, and peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in line with international law and pertinent United Nations resolutions.

Additionally, the resolution requested that the UN secretary-general should take the necessary measures to implement its provisions.

The UNGA decided, in accordance with the resolution, and on an exceptional basis — without this setting a precedent — to adopt several methods related to the participation of the State of Palestine in the sessions and work of the General Assembly and the international conferences held under its auspices and other UN organs. As an observer, Palestine does not have the right to submit its candidacy to the UN bodies.

“The UNGA vote will not change Palestine’s legal status, but it has become impossible to maintain the old status quo,” said Ahmed Hammad, professor of international law. “Discussions about adopting methods that allow Palestine’s participation in the UNGA sessions and international conferences even without the right to vote is creating a fait accompli of Palestine’s inclusion in the international community and the UN.”

The annex outlines several rights afforded to Palestine, including its entitlement to sit among member states in alphabetical order and to register on the list of speakers for agenda items unrelated to Palestine and Middle East issues.

It adds that Palestine has the right to deliver statements on behalf of a group alongside other major groups’ representatives, propose or amend resolutions independently or on behalf of a group of nations, and participate in the election of Palestine delegation members to the Bureau of the General Assembly and its main committees. Palestine is also granted participation rights in UN conferences and those organised under the General Assembly’s auspices.

Algeria, a non-permanent member of the UNSC, said it would return to the council “more strongly” and with “a louder voice” with the support of an “overwhelming majority” in the UNGA. The resolution of the UAE – acting as chairman of the Arab Group – was favoured by 143 countries this month. This constituted more than two thirds of the members of the UNGA present and voting during the session.

Algerian Ambassador Ammar bin Jama said, “the support from 12 UNSC members sends a clear message affirming that the State of Palestine rightfully belongs among the UN members.” He expressed hope that those who did not back Palestine’s inclusion this time will be compelled to do so in the future.

Robert Wood, deputy US ambassador to the UN, stated that the US would employ its veto power again if a draft resolution regarding Palestine’s membership were presented to the UNSC. He added that the most expedient route for the Palestinian people to secure UN membership is through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, supported by the US and other partners.

The Arab Group, comprising 21 countries, unanimously supported the resolution, as anticipated.

From Africa, only Malawi abstained from voting. Omar Abdel-Fattah, a professor of African studies, said: “It is expected that one out of 54 countries would diverge from the consensus,” recalling South Africa’s stance, which brought Israel to the International Court of Justice, accusing it of committing genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza.

In Asia, the consensus remained unwavering, with powerhouses such as China, India, and Indonesia all voting in favour of the resolution, maintaining solidarity without any dissenting votes.

In Latin America, all countries voted in favour of the resolution, except Paraguay which abstained. Argentina, under its new right wing president, Javier Milei, rejected Palestine’s membership. Milei, a self-described “anarcho-capitalist prioritising the free market,” declared his solidarity with Israel during its recent war on Gaza, which resulted in the death of 35,000, predominantly women and children, alongside around 80,000 injuries.

The majority of small island states in the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean showed support for Palestine. However, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, and Micronesia rejected Palestine’s membership in the UN. Fiji, the Marshall Islands, and Vanuatu abstained from voting.

Fourteen European Union members threw their support behind Palestine’s bid for membership, while 11 opted for abstention, and two right wing nations, Hungary and the Czech Republic, rejected it.

Championing Palestine’s cause for full United Nations membership were France, Belgium, Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland, which has long been a staunch advocate for the Palestinian cause.

Among those abstaining were Germany, Italy, Austria, Sweden, Croatia, and the Netherlands. Italy, Croatia, and the Netherlands fall under right wing governments.

Outside the European Union, Russia and its allies such as Belarus, Serbia, and Armenia voted in support of Palestine. Azerbaijan and all member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation threw their weight behind the resolution, except Albania which abstained. Norway, Iceland, Montenegro, Bosnia, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Andorra, and Turkey also stood in solidarity.

Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova — former Soviet republics currently at odds with Russia — opted for abstention, as did North Macedonia, Monaco, and the UK.

“Europe’s position is understandable. The continent has been divided since the inception of the European Union, which is essentially a Western bloc,” said Bassem Mohamed Ali, a professor of international relations. “Europe’s international political clout has waned for various reasons. This was unveiled during the Ukraine crisis.”

Ali observed that among those abstaining are primarily Russia’s adversaries, such as the UK, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. “In a typical scenario, countries outside the European Union would neither abstain nor oppose Palestine’s right to full membership,” he noted. “This is primarily a European issue, not a matter of being convinced – or not – of the Palestinian right to fully join the UN. Washington’s stance is unlikely to shift, but Palestine is unwilling to acquiesce to US conditions as it has in the past.”

* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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