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Security Council to discuss Palestinian bid for full UN membership

The United States is expected to block the revived 2011 application: “Our position has not changed,” said Washington’s deputy ambassador. 

The U.N. Security Council adopts Resolution 2728 in a 14-0 vote, with the U.S. abstaining, demanding an immediate ceasefire to Israel's war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip during Ramadan, March 25, 2024. Credit: Loey Felipe/U.N. Photo.
The U.N. Security Council adopts Resolution 2728 in a 14-0 vote, with the U.S. abstaining, demanding an immediate ceasefire to Israel's war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip during Ramadan, March 25, 2024. Credit: Loey Felipe/U.N. Photo.

The Palestinians’ long-dormant application for full United Nations membership will be given a fresh look on Monday.

The United Nations Security Council is set to meet, first in closed consultations, then in an open format, to consider the 2011 application—a move officially requested in a letter from Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Mansour last Wednesday.

That letter, addressed to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and Security Council President Vanessa Frazier of Malta, indicated support from 140 member states who already recognize Palestinian statehood.

However, the United States, which holds veto power as a permanent member of the council, has signaled it would block the move.

“Our position has not changed,” U.S. deputy ambassador Robert Wood told reporters last Tuesday, noting that the issue of full Palestinian U.N. membership is one of the final-status issues that needs to be decided in bilateral political settlement talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

By long standing practice, applications for U.N. membership are steered to the Security Council’s standing Committee on the Admission of New Members, on which each council member has a representative. The standing committee could meet as early as Monday afternoon.

It has also been general practice that a membership application is only advanced out of the committee to a full council vote by consensus.

This is exactly where the Palestinians’ application was short-circuited in 2011. Though no record of a committee vote was ever taken, a report forwarded to the U.N. General Assembly indicated that at least two members of the council could not support the application.

A publication by Colombia’s Foreign Ministry, which was a council member in 2011, showed not only a U.S. veto, but the application failing to garner the nine required votes on the 15-member council. Concerns included whether the Palestinians could meet the U.N.’s requirements that it have the capacity to enter into relations with other states, as well as whether it was a peace-loving state. Questions were also raised regarding Hamas’s control over the Gaza Strip.

After the application failed to get out of committee, it was referred to the General Assembly, which in 2012 voted to grant the Palestinians U.N. non-state observer status. That approval allowed the Palestinians to join the United Nations and other international organizations, including the International Criminal Court.

Even if the application again fails to advance out of committee, any individual member of the Security Council can still request a full council vote, which would require nine approvals and no vetoes. 

If the application is approved by the full Security Council, it would be put to a final vote in the 193-member General Assembly, where the Palestinians would have more than the two-thirds majority approval necessary and where vetoes do not apply.

No admission of a new member has been vetoed in the Security Council since 1976, when the United States thwarted Vietnam’s application before supporting it the following year.

The Security Council is expected to hold its quarterly meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian file on April 18, which will be a ministerial level meeting. The Palestinians have targeted this date as one in which they hope the council will put their application forward for a vote.

The council is also negotiating a French-drafted resolution which calls for an immediate Israel-Hamas ceasefire and release of all hostages, while demanding unimpeded humanitarian aid and condemning Hamas for its Oct. 7 invasion of Israel. The text of the resolution contains language noting that 139 member states have recognized a Palestinian state and expresses the intent of the council to welcome the Palestinians as a full U.N. member.

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