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U.N. General Assembly backs Palestinian membership bid : NPR

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 23, 2022. The U.N. General Assembly has voted on a resolution to grant new “rights and privileges” to Palestine and call on the Security Council to favorably reconsider its request to become a member of the United Nations.

Julia Nikhinson/AP

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. General Assembly voted by a wide margin on Friday to grant new “rights and privileges” to Palestine and called on the Security Council to reconsider Palestine’s request to become the 194th member of the United Nations.

The 193-member world body approved the Arab and Palestinian-sponsored resolution by a vote of 143-9 with 25 abstentions. The United States voted against the resolution, along with Israel, Argentina, Czechia, Hungary, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Papua New Guinea.

The vote reflected the wide global support for full membership of Palestine in the United Nations, with many countries expressing outrage at the escalating death toll in Gaza and fears of a major Israeli offensive in Rafah, a southern city where about 1.3 million Palestinians have sought refuge.

But while it gives Palestine some new rights and privileges, it reaffirms that it remains a non-member observer state without the right to vote in the General Assembly or at any of its conferences. And the United States has made clear that it will block Palestinian membership and statehood until direct negotiations with Israel resolve key issues, including security, boundaries and the future of Jerusalem.

The U.S. also vetoed a widely backed council resolution on April 18 that would have paved the way for full United Nations membership for Palestine.

U.S. deputy ambassador Robert Wood said Friday the United States supports Palestinian statehood, but that it will come only from direct negotiations that guarantee Israel’s security and future as a democratic Jewish state and that Palestinians can live in peace in a state of their own.

Under the U.N. Charter, prospective members of the United Nations must be “peace-loving” and the Security Council must recommend their admission to the General Assembly for final approval. Palestine became a U.N. non-member observer state in 2012.

But unlike in the Security Council, there are no vetoes in the General Assembly. The resolution required a two-thirds majority of members voting and got significantly more than the 118 vote minimum.

The resolution “determines” that a state of Palestine is qualified for membership — dropping the original language that in the General Assembly’s judgment it is “a peace-loving state.” It therefore recommends that the Security Council reconsider its request “favorably.”

The renewed push for full Palestinian membership in the U.N. comes as the war in Gaza has put the more than 75-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict at center stage. At numerous council and assembly meetings, the humanitarian crisis facing the Palestinians in Gaza and the killing of more than 34,000 people in the territory, according to Gaza health officials, have generated outrage from many countries.

Before the vote, Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, told the assembly in an emotional speech that “No words can capture what such loss and trauma signifies for Palestinians, their families, communities and for our national as a whole.”

He said Palestinians in Gaza “have been pushed to the very edge of the strip, to the very brink of life” with Israel besieging Rafah.

Mansour accused Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of preparing “to kill thousands to ensure his political survival” and aiming to destroy the Palestinian people.

Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan vehemently opposed the resolution, accusing U.N. member nations of not mentioning Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel, which killed 1,200 people, and seeking “to reward modern-day Nazis with rights and privileges.”

He said if an election were held today, Hamas would win, and warned U.N. members that they were “about to grant privileges and rights to the future terror state of Hamas.” He held up a photo of Yehya Sinwar, the mastermind of the Hamas attack on Israel, saying a terrorist “whose stated goal is Jewish genocide” would be a future Palestinian leader.

Erdan also accused the assembly of trampling on the U.N. Charter.

The original draft of the resolution was changed significantly to address concerns not only by the U.S. but also by Russia and China, three Western diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations were private.

The first draft would have conferred on Palestine “the rights and privileges necessary to ensure its full and effective participation” in the assembly’s sessions and U.N. conferences “on equal footing with member states.” It also made no reference to whether Palestine could vote in the General Assembly.

According to the diplomats, Russia and China, which are strong supporters of Palestine’s U.N. membership, were concerned that granting the rights and privileges listed in an annex could set a precedent for other would-be U.N. members — with Russia concerned about Kosovo and China about Taiwan.

Under longstanding legislation by the U.S. Congress, the United States is required to cut off funding to U.N. agencies that give full membership to a Palestinian state, which could mean a cutoff in dues and voluntary contributions to the U.N. from its largest contributor.

The final draft dropped the language that would put Palestine “on equal footing with member states.” And to address Chinese and Russian concerns, it decided “on an exceptional basis and without setting a precedent” to adopt the rights and privileges in the annex.

The resolution approved by the assembly also added a provision in the annex clarifying that it does not give Palestine the right to vote in the General Assembly.

What the resolution does give Palestine are the rights to speak on all issues not just those related to the Palestinians and Middle East, to propose agenda items and reply in debates, and to serve on the assembly’s main committees. It also allows Palestinians to participate in U.N. and international conferences convened by the United Nations, but without the right to vote.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas first delivered the Palestinian Authority’s application for U.N. membership in 2011. It failed because the Palestinians didn’t get the required minimum support of nine of the Security Council’s 15 members.

They went to the General Assembly and succeeded by more than a two-thirds majority in having their status raised from a U.N. observer to a non-member observer state. That opened the door for the Palestinian territories to join U.N. and other international organizations, including the International Criminal Court.

In the Security Council vote on April 18, the Palestinians got much more support for full U.N. membership. The vote was 12 in favor, the United Kingdom and Switzerland abstaining, and the United States voting no and vetoing the resolution.

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