General Assembly in New York: UN strengthens Palestinians' rights and calls for membership - Israel reacts harshly

The United Nations General Assembly significantly strengthens the role of the Palestinians within the largest UN body.

General Assembly in New York: UN strengthens Palestinians' rights and calls for membership - Israel reacts harshly

The United Nations General Assembly significantly strengthens the role of the Palestinians within the largest UN body. A resolution passed overwhelmingly in New York on Friday grants the observer state of Palestine significantly expanded participation in General Assembly sessions, but does not give it regular voting rights. In addition, the body with 193 member states called on the crucial UN Security Council to “benevolently” consider full membership for Palestine.

143 countries voted for the resolution, 9 states voted against it. 25 countries abstained - including Great Britain and Germany, which does not recognize Palestine as an independent country. Israel's closest ally, the United States, rejected the request.

The General Assembly states with the assumption that the "State of Palestine (...) should be admitted to membership in the United Nations" - the Security Council should "reconsider this favorably". The USA confirmed that in this case it would once again use its right of veto in the most powerful UN body with its 15 members. Against the backdrop of the Gaza war, the vote was also seen as an indication of the international mood regarding the recent escalations in the Middle East conflict. At the United Nations, there is a clear majority for resolutions critical of Israel or pro-Palestinian. There is no right of veto in the general assembly.

Before the vote, Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan accused the General Assembly of promoting "the establishment of a Palestinian terrorist state." "You have opened the United Nations to modern-day Nazis and genocidal jihadists who are committed to establishing an Islamic state throughout Israel, in the region, and murdering every Jewish man, woman and child. It makes me sick." In a symbolic act, Erdan shredded pieces of paper in front of the lectern that read “United Nations Charter.” He ended his speech with the words “shame on you.”

Palestinian UN Ambassador Riad Mansour expressed his confidence that he would one day be a full member of the United Nations, despite the US blockade of the UN Security Council. "Without a doubt the day will come when Palestine will take its rightful place in the community of free nations. Occupation and colonialism and death and destruction are not our destiny. They are forced upon us. But freedom is our only destiny."

The now adopted bill called “Draft Resolution on the Admission of New Members to the United Nations” and the clear pro-Palestinian vote now put the USA under further pressure amid growing criticism of Israel’s conduct of the war in the Gaza Strip. The US government reiterated its position that agreement with Israel on a two-state solution would be a prerequisite for recognizing full UN membership for Palestine. Applications for membership in the UN Security Council therefore failed in mid-April and as early as 2011. The UN Charter stipulates that the admission of a new member state takes place on the “recommendation of the Security Council by resolution of the General Assembly”.

In the UN General Assembly, the Palestinians will now be allowed to behave in a similar way to normal members: representatives of Palestine are also allowed to speak on topics that have nothing to do with the Middle East conflict. They can also submit amendments to resolutions or propose new agenda items and carry out functions within the plenary session. The draft calls on other United Nations bodies to grant Palestine similar rights. But it is also emphasized that Palestinians have no voting rights and are not allowed to run for UN bodies.

The vote in the General Assembly also caused unrest among the most influential countries, the USA, China and Russia, because they fear a loss of control in the upgrading of regions whose statehood is controversial. In this context, names such as Kosovo, Taiwan or Nagorno-Karabakh were mentioned. The text of the adopted draft resolution therefore emphasizes that the case of Palestine is an exception "without creating a precedent."

Of the 193 UN member states, more than 130 have so far recognized Palestine as an independent country. Germany, like the USA, is not one of them. In 2012, Palestine - like the Vatican - was upgraded to a non-member observer state at the United Nations, with 138 yes votes at the time.

Within the UN system, Palestine is therefore considered a "state", but from Germany's perspective the country of Palestine does not exist as such - the Foreign Office refers to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem as "Palestinian territories". Due to the limited international recognition, at least some countries doubt that the Palestinians can participate in international organizations in the same way as members whose statehood is not in question.

The US government is also concerned that Congress in Washington will react negatively to the General Assembly's decision: US law prohibits the American government from funding UN organizations if they grant full membership to a group "that does not have internationally recognized ones "characteristics of statehood". According to lawyers, this is not the case with Friday's decision, but some MPs in Washington could still call for a funding stop for the United Nations.

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