INTERVIEW - We will seek Palestine full UN membership in mid-April: AL representative to UN

Samar Al-Gamal , Wednesday 3 Apr 2024

Maged Abdel-Fattah, the Arab League's (AL) permanent representative to the UN, revealed in an interview with Ahram Online the arduous path to adopting a Gaza ceasefire, leveraging veto power, and bolstering Palestinian statehood recognition.

UN Abdel-Fattah
Arab League Ambassador to the United Nations Maged Abdel-Fattah Abdel-Aziz


After the US orchestrated a loop of vetoes and revisions of the draft proposal and 171 days of war in Gaza, the Security Council has adopted a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan, that should lead to a lasting ceasefire. 

An American proposal, opposed by Russia and China, was presented after the American vetoing of an earlier Arab resolution in February.

“Since then, the Americans had a draft and continued to modify it, with six versions, revision after revision, and submitted it to the council only 48 hours before the vote on the new text proposed by the group of 10 non-permanent council members,” said Abdel-Fattah joined by phone in New York.

“The American project aimed at nothing more than paralyzing the UN's capacity to take a binding decision on Israel, until an agreement is concluded outside of the UN, through negotiations in Paris, Doha, and Cairo,” Abdel-Fattah explained.

The seasoned UN veteran believes that “the 6 revisions were a US stalling tactic to drag the discussions for weeks.”

They ultimately presented a weak proposal, containing some important reservations from the Arab group, “which surprised us, but the situation quickly became clear,” he added.

“It was not that the draft doesn’t prioritize an immediate ceasefire, and linked it to the release of captives, it was charged with redline details,” Abdel-Fattah noted.

The draft condemned Hamas as a terrorist organization, a stance the Arab group disagreed with.

“The position of all Arab countries is that Hamas and the Palestinian factions are resistance movements, and not terrorist organizations whether or not we agree with what happened on 7 October. They cannot be qualified or classified as Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabab in Somalia, or the M23 in Congo. This is unacceptable to us,” he said.

Additionally, the Arab opposition came due to the US attempt to shift blame to the UN agency assisting Palestinian refugees UNRWA, claiming that its staff was involved in violence.

“Israel only provided a few emails between people congratulating each other or praising the 7 October. Should this be considered participation by a UNRWA member, and does it deserve condemnation? No, it does not.”

“The US wanted to condemn UNRWA while we are still waiting for a report from the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, and the results of the evaluation committee formed by the secretary-general to evaluate the UNRWA's operations on the ground,” he explained.

Abdel-Fattah clarified that Washington shares Israel's longstanding criticism of UNRWA and hopes to see it disappear – to put an end to the Palestinian refugees' “right of return.”

However, the agency was created in 1948 under Resolution 302 of the General Assembly, which makes it subordinate to the assembly and not the Security Council, he affirmed.

“The American text, thus, wanted to shift its role under the Security Council umbrella through the work of Sigrid Kaag, the special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, as a new UN aid mechanism.”

The Arab group also opposed the report submitted by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence Pramila Patten, which “contained unfounded accusations against the Palestinian resistance.”

“She went to Israel and met with Israelis, who made certain allegations, but did not meet any of the alleged survivors/victims of sexual violence, and did not go to Gaza,” he stated.

“The text is rigged,” and “the most dangerous element” is that it did not really call for a ceasefire, but only supports all international diplomatic efforts to reach a ceasefire agreement linked to the release of the captives, Abdel-Fattah explained.

“We decided to oppose this resolution; we informed the Americans; and we reached an agreement with China and Russia, who agreed with us that this text, as it stands, along with the humanitarian situation on the ground and Israel's refusal to let humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, should not pass.”

However, later, the US did not veto the E10 text, which became Resolution 2728.

While the US abstained, it did not entirely abandon its underlying goals, he clarified.

“By abstaining, they avoided damaging relations with the Islamic world, facing increasing pressure due to the worsening situation in Gaza.”

Abdel-Fattah believes that there is extra pressure on Washington not to veto the text because of “the electoral difficulties faced by Joe Biden in Michigan.”

He said that the US got what they wanted from the text, as the resolution is still indirectly linking the ceasefire to the release of captives — a key US goal.

He highlighted the wording of the US ambassador to the UN, when she explained the vote on this resolution, stating that it was necessary to guarantee the “release of our captives."

The Arab group is concerned about Israel's compliance with the ceasefire and is exploring options for enforcement measures against Israel at the Security Council, a move likely to be thwarted by a US veto.

The UN Charter clearly states that Security Council resolutions are mandatory, and all members are required to comply with them.

However, there is a difference between obligation and enforcement procedures, and the current resolution voted under Chapter VI of the charter does not stipulate enforcement or sanctions procedures.

France, who voted for the US draft earlier, said it wants to move forward with a new text on the political process. It pushed a draft at a closed consultation session on Monday evening that “requests” the secretary-general to develop options for a possible role of the UN Truce Supervision in Gaza, to contribute to monitoring a ceasefire.

The US has up until now requested France to postpone its submission until reaching an agreement in the prisoner exchange negotiations in Cairo and Doha.

“The new draft includes parts that differ drastically from the Arab group's direction; some are taken from the US draft, and some are new,” the diplomat explained.

It still condemns the Palestinian resistance as “terrorist” and refers to the Patten report “in a more subtle way.”

“These are completely unacceptable rulings, and we will submit revisions to delete them,” he emphasized.

However, the draft is full of positive aspects, he believes.

France “expresses its intent” to welcome the State of Palestine as a full member of the UN, calls for negotiations on the two-state solution, stresses the illegality of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, and concerns over the violence by extremist settlers. Moreover, “it will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including about Jerusalem.”

These all are Arab demands as the Arab group is also pursuing “a resolution for full UN membership for Palestine, and not as an observer,” a move that would again likely face US opposition, he noted.

The State of Palestine has already been recognized by 140 countries out of the 193 UN members. “We therefore have a two-thirds majority to ensure a vote in our favor, as the admission of a new state requires a two-thirds majority,” Abdel-Fattah affirmed.

The approach is supported by the decision of the Arab-Islamic summit held in Riyadh in November and the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Kampala – which brought together 127 countries – along with some Eastern European countries.

“It's unclear whether France intends for this project to slow down the Arab-Islamic movement or it is a genuine attempt to revive the peace process,” he said.

“We have in all cases decided to go to the Security Council in mid-April, at a ministerial meeting,” Abdel-Fattah revealed.

“There is unprecedented international sympathy for Palestine, and we want to take advantage of this, not only to improve the humanitarian situation on the ground and achieve a ceasefire but to take a step further by integrating the Palestinian state, even if it does not yet have borders, which is a common practice at the United Nations.”

“Israel does not have any either. Israel was created by General Assembly Resolution 181, which stipulated the creation of two states: a Palestinian state and an Israeli state. Israel was created, but Palestine was not,” he concluded.

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