UN general assembly votes to back Palestinian bid for membership (2024)

The UN general assembly has voted overwhelmingly to back the Palestinian bid for full UN membership, in a move that signalled Israel’s growing global isolation amid alarm over the war in Gaza and the extent of the humanitarian crisis in the territory.

The assembly voted by 143 to nine, with 25 abstentions, for a resolution that called on the UN security council to bestow full membership to the state of Palestine, while enhancing its current mission with a range of new rights and privileges, in addition to what it is allowed in its current observer status.

The highly charged gesture drew an immediate rebuke from Israel. Its envoy to the UN, Gilad Erdan, delivered a fiery denunciation of the resolution and its backers before the vote.

“Today, I will hold up a mirror for you,” Erdan said, taking out a small paper shredder in which he shredded a copy of the cover of the UN charter. He told the assembly: “You are shredding the UN charter with your own hands. Yes, yes, that’s what you’re doing. Shredding the UN charter. Shame on you.”

The other nations that voted against the resolution were Argentina, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Papua New Guinea. The UK abstained.

The Palestinian envoy, Riyad Mansour, pointed out the vote was being held at a time when Rafah, the southernmost city that is the last haven for many Palestinians in Gaza, faced attack from Israeli forces.

“As we speak, 1.4 million Palestinians in Rafah wonder if they will survive the day and wonder where to go next. There is nowhere left to go,” Mansour said. “I have stood hundreds of times before at this podium, often in tragic circ*mstances, but none comparable to the ones my people endured today … never for a more significant vote than the one about to take place, a historic one.”

Late on Friday the US government said it was “reasonable to assess” that the weapons it had provided to Israel had been used in ways that were “inconsistent” with international humanitarian law – but found there was not enough concrete evidence to link specific US-supplied weapons to violations or to warrant cutting the supply of arms.

In a highly anticipated report to Congress, the state department said the assurances given by Israel that they had been using US-supplied weapons in accordance with international humanitarian law (IHL) were “credible and reliable”.

The report, which had been held up for several days by debate within the state department, expressed deep misgivings about Israeli compliance with IHL but said the US did not have sufficient evidence about individual cases to recommend that arms supplies be suspended.

It came two days after Joe Biden expressed his own misgivings over the Israeli use of US-supplied weapons, and suggested they underpinned his decision last week to hold up a shipment of particularly powerful US-made bombs.

Friday’s UN resolution was carefully tailored over recent days, diluting its language so as not to trigger a cut-off of US funding under a 1990 law. It does not make Palestine a full member, or give it voting rights in the assembly, or the right to stand for membership of the security council, but the vote was a resounding expression of world opinion in favour of Palestinian statehood, galvanised by the continuing deaths and famine caused by Israel’s war in Gaza.

Even before the vote, Israel and a group of leading Republicans urged US funding be cut anyway because of the new privileges the resolution granted to the Palestinian mission.

The US mission to the UN, which voted against the resolution, said it would use its veto again if the question of Palestinian membership returned to the security council for another vote.

“Efforts to advance this resolution do not change the reality that the Palestinian Authority does not currently meet the criteria for UN membership under the UN charter,” the mission’s spokesperson, Nathan Evans, said. “Additionally, the draft resolution does not alter the status of the Palestinians as a “non-member state observer mission”.

Under the resolution, the Palestinian mission will have the right to sit in the general assembly among other states in alphabetical order, rather than in its current observer seat at the back of the chamber. Palestinian diplomats will have the right to introduce proposals and amendments, they can be elected to official posts in the full chamber and on committees, and will have the right to speak on Middle Eastern matters, as well as the right to make statements on behalf of groups of nations in the assembly.

But the resolution also makes plain that “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.”

Richard Gowan, the UN director at the International Crisis Group, said: “In essence, it gives the Palestinians the airs and graces of a UN member, but without the fundamental attributes of a real member, which are voting power and the right to run for the security council.”

The general assembly resolution was crafted to fall short of the benchmark set in a 1990 US law that bans funding of the UN or any UN agency “which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states”.

The main faction in the PLO, Fatah, now controls the Palestinian Authority, which the Biden administration is backing to govern Gaza, which is currently run by Hamas, after the war is over.

Despite the wording in the resolution making clear Palestine would not have a vote, Israel called on the US to cut funding for the UN, and a group of Republican senators announced they were introducing legislation to do that.

“The US should not lend credibility to an organization that actively promotes and rewards terrorism. By granting any sort of status at the UN to the Palestine Liberation Organization, we would be doing just that,” Senator Mitt Romney said in a written statement. “Our legislation would cut off US taxpayer funding to the UN if it gives additional rights and privileges to the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.”

On Thursday night, Israel’s security cabinet approved a “measured expansion” of Israeli forces’ operation in Rafah, after ceasefire talks in Cairo stalled. The US adamantly opposes the Rafah offensive, and has paused the delivery of a consignment of bombs, and President Biden has threatened further restrictions on arms supplies if Israel presses ahead with the attack.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, vowed to defy US objections, saying Israel would fight on “with our fingernails” if necessary. On Monday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing, after ordering civilians in the east of Rafah city to evacuate. Since then more than 150,000 people have fled the area. On Friday, the UN reported intense clashes between the IDF and Palestinian militants on the eastern outskirts of the city. The fighting has cut off aid supplies to Gaza at a time of spreading famine.

Jan Egeland, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said on X that he had been told by NRC workers in Rafah that “the IDF assault is intensifying with continuous, massive explosions. There is no fuel, transportation, nor safe evacuation areas for most of the remaining 1.2 million civilians.”

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said during a visit to Nairobi that the situation in Rafah was “on a knife’s edge”.

“A massive ground attack in Rafah would lead to [an] epic humanitarian disaster and pull the plug on our efforts to support people as famine looms,” he said.

UN general assembly votes to back Palestinian bid for membership (2024)

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