The UN General Assembly nominates Palestine for membership

The vote, which would grant significantly expanded participation to observer state Palestine in General Assembly sessions, puts the United States under pressure. Austria does not recognize Palestine as an independent state.

On Friday, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of full membership for the Palestinians. The resolution, passed overwhelmingly in New York on Friday, gives Palestine’s observer state significantly expanded participation in General Assembly sessions, but does not give it regular voting rights. 143 countries voted in favor of the resolution, nine countries voted against and 25 countries abstained.

The General Assembly states with the assumption that “Palestine (…) should be admitted to membership in the United Nations” – the Security Council “should reconsider this positively”. Hours earlier, the US confirmed that it would again exercise its veto power in the 15-member, most powerful UN body on the case. The vote was also seen as a sign of the international mood regarding the recent escalation in the Middle East conflict, in the wake of the Gaza war. There is a clear majority in the United Nations for pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian resolutions. There is no right of veto in the General Assembly.

A bi-state solution for the USA prerequisite

The now-adopted “draft resolution for the admission of new members to the United Nations” and a clear pro-Palestinian vote have put the US under further pressure amid growing criticism of Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip. The US government takes the position that a two-state solution agreement with Israel is a prerequisite for recognizing full UN membership for Palestine. So the UN Applications for Security Council membership failed in mid-April and early 2011. The Charter of the United Nations states that the admission of a new Member State takes place on the basis of a “recommendation of the Security Council through a resolution of the General Assembly”.

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At the UN General Assembly, Palestinians will now be allowed to behave like ordinary members: Palestine’s representatives are also allowed to speak on topics unrelated to the Middle East conflict. They may submit amendments to resolutions or propose new agenda items and conduct activities in plenary session. The draft calls on other United Nations bodies to grant similar rights to Palestine. But it insists that Palestinians do not have the right to vote and are not allowed to run for UN bodies.

The vote in the General Assembly has sparked unease among the most influential countries, the United States, China and Russia, as they fear the state will lose control over developing disputed territories. In this context, names such as Kosovo, Taiwan and Nagorno-Karabakh were mentioned. The text of the adopted draft resolution therefore emphasizes that the case of Palestine is an exception “without setting a precedent”.

Not recognized by Austria

More than 130 of the 193 UN member states have recognized Palestine as an independent state. Austria, like America, is not one of them. In 2012, Palestine – like the Vatican – was elevated to non-member observer state status at the United Nations, with 138 votes in favor.

Within the UN system, Palestine is considered a “state”, but in Austria’s view, the State of Palestine is not. Due to limited international recognition, at least some countries doubt that Palestinians can participate in international organizations as members who do not question their statehood.

The U.S. government is concerned that Congress in Washington will react negatively to the General Assembly’s decision: U.S. law prohibits the U.S. government from funding UN organizations if they grant full membership to a body that “does not have the characteristics of an internationally recognized state.” According to lawyers, Friday’s decision is not the case, but some MPs in Washington may still demand a freeze on funding to the United Nations. (APA/dpa/AFP)

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