The UN General Assembly Votes to Give the Palestinian Authority Additional Rights

The vote in the General Assembly (UN website, May 11, 2024)

The vote in the General Assembly (UN website, May 11, 2024)

Overview[1]
  • On May 10, 2024, the UN General Assembly, with a majority vote of 143 countries, approved a resolution to grant the Palestinian Authority (PA) additional rights in the UN. It also allowed the PA to resubmit its request to the Security Council for full UN membership.
  • The significance of the vote is that the representatives of the PA, which since 2012 has had non-member observer state status, will now be able to participate in the discussions of the General Assembly, put forward proposals for deliberation and participate in the forums of UN agencies and committees, and in selecting representatives for the various committees. At the same time, however, the proposal explicitly states that the [so-called] “State of Palestine” is an observer, cannot vote in the General Assembly or be elected to the UN forums. The PA and Hamas welcomed the decision, regarding it as an expression of international support for the Palestinian issue.
  • The vote was a precedent-setting, controversial move, as it is not clear whether the General Assembly has the authority to grant the PA, defined as an observer, the rights of a full UN member state, as only the Security Council has that authority. In April 2024 the United States vetoed a proposal to upgrade the PA to member status.
  • Without a doubt, the vote in the General Assembly was a significant political achievement for the PA. Winning a majority vote in the General Assembly, with countries such as France voting in favor, indicated the broad consensus that currently exists around the globe for the recognition of the “State of Palestine.” The step may also promote bilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, including by EU member states. It also challenges United States policy towards the Palestinian issue, after an attempt was made to bypass the American veto of the proposed resolution in the Security Council and the possibility that the issue would be deliberated again by the Security Council.
Further Information
  • On May 10, 2024, the UN General Assembly voted on a resolution to grant the PA additional rights in the UN. The General Assembly also authorized the PA to resubmit its request to the Security Council and recommended that the Security Council positively reconsider accepting the PA as a full member. The vote was 143 countries in favor, nine countries opposed and 25 abstentions (Reuters, May 10, 2024). Among those opposed to the proposal were the United States, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Argentina. Great Britain and Germany abstained, while France voted in favor. Before the vote, the spokesperson of the American delegation to the UN announced that the United States would vote against it on the grounds that a Palestinian state should only be established as part of implementing the two-state solution, and that according to the United States, the PA still does not meet the UN’s criteria for statehood.
  • The vote in the General Assembly was preceded by a vote in the Security Council held on April 18, 2024, regarding the PA’s request for full membership. The proposal was supported by 12 countries, Britain and Switzerland abstained. The Palestinian resolution failed to pass after the United States vetoed it (Reuters, April 18, 2024).
The vote in the General Assembly (UN website, May 11, 2024)
The vote in the General Assembly (UN website, May 11, 2024)
Significance and Ramifications
  • The significance of the decision is that the representatives of the PA (the “State of Palestine,” according to the resolution’s terminology), which until now had observer state status, and whose representatives could not vote in the General Assembly or be elected to international forums, would now be able to participate in General Assembly sessions and put forward proposals for deliberation (even if they did not relate to the Middle East), participate in the forums of UN agencies and committees and participate in the selection processes of the representatives in the various committees. However, the proposal explicitly states that the “State of Palestine,” as an observer state, cannot vote in the General Assembly or be elected to the forums as a member state.
  • The General Assembly’s vote is considered a precedent-setting, controversial move, as it is unclear whether the General Assembly has the authority to grant the PA the rights of a full member state, since only the Security Council can recognize a state as a member. The General Assembly granted the PA the status of a “non-member observer state ” in 2012, and since then the PA has been working ceaselessly to change its status to full member, but so far its efforts have been met with opposition from Israel and other countries, and an American veto in the Security Council.
  • However, the vote in the General Assembly on May 10, 2024 and the decision to upgrade the PA’s status constitute a significant political achievement for the PA. A majority vote in the General Assembly testified to the broad consensus that currently exists regarding recognition of a Palestinian state, which may lead various countries to recognize “the State of Palestine.”
  • Josep Borrell, the EU foreign minister, said that Spain, Ireland, Slovenia and Malta were expected to recognize a Palestinian state on May 21, 2024. He called it a symbolic political step to demonstrate the desire of those countries for the establishment of a Palestinian state. He added that in his opinion other countries would take a similar step in the future (Reuters, May 10, 2024).
  • The move also challenges United States policy towards the Palestinian issue after an attempt was made to bypass its veto in the Security Council, and in the face of the possibility that the issue will be deliberated again in the Security Council.
Reactions
  • Mahmoud Abbas, PA chairman, welcomed the vote and claimed it was proof that the world supported “justice” for the Palestinians and opposed the [so-called] “crimes of the occupation.” He noted that they would continue seeking full UN membership with the approval of the Security Council. He called on the United States to withdraw its support from Israel (“the occupation”) and expressed appreciation for the countries that voted in favor of the resolution (Wafa, May 11, 2024).
  • After the American veto in the Security Council the Palestinians sharply criticized the United States. Mahmoud Abbas said they were facing a new, difficult phase and would re-examine their relations with the United States (Ma’an, April 20, 2024). His office accused the veto of being “immoral and unjustified,” and of challenging the will of the international community, which supported granting full UN membership to the PA. Furthermore, Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that the veto revealed the contradictions in United States policy, which on the one hand claimed to support the two-state solution but on the other prevented international institutions from implementing it (Wafa, April 18, 2024).
  • Sources in the PA government also claimed that due to the American veto, Mahmoud Abbas refused to meet with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Ramallah or on the sidelines of the Economic Forum in Riadh. They added that it was Mahmoud Abbas’ way of expressing Palestinian anger at the American positions which are [allegedly] biased in favor of Israel (al-Sharq News X account, May 1, 2024).
  • Amran al-Khatib, a member of the Palestinian National Council, called the General Assembly’s vote a confirmation of international support for the Palestinian people’s self-determination and the establishment of an independent state. He attributed the vote to the political success of the PLO, led by Mahmoud Abbas (Wafa, May 10 2024).
A Palestinian cartoon following the United States veto in the Security Council (al-Quds al-Arabi, April 20, 2024)
A Palestinian cartoon following the United States veto in the Security Council
(al-Quds al-Arabi, April 20, 2024)
  • Hamas also welcomed the vote, and said in a statement that Hamas regarded it as recognition of the Palestinian people’s need to obtain their rights. Hamas called on the countries of the world to increase their efforts to support the Palestinian people and for the Security Council to recognize the “State of Palestine” as a full UN member (Hamas Telegram channel, May 11, 2024).
  • Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and Jordan also welcomed the decision. Egypt called on all countries which had not yet recognized a Palestinian state to take the important, essential step of recognition in order to support the Palestinian issue (Egyptian foreign ministry X account, May 11, 2024). Jordan stated that 143 votes in favor reflected the international consensus regarding the right of the “State of Palestine” to full UN membership (Jordanian foreign ministry X account, May 11, 2024). Saudi Arabia stated that the vote expressed the international consensus on the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination (Saudi Arabian foreign ministry X account, May 11, 2024). Turkey noted that the vote reaffirmed the strong support of the overwhelming majority of the international community for the right of the Palestinian people to their own state (Turkish foreign ministry X account, May 11, 2024).

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