Significance of the 10th May UN Resolution on Palestine

 By Abhilash Kolekar
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The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) passed a historic resolution on 10th May 2024. The resolution accords special privileges to Palestine as an Observer State and requests the UN Security Council (UNSC) to reconsider its membership application. The UNGA Resolution is noteworthy given the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas conflict, the long overdue of Palestine’s status, and a critical UN reform called the “Veto initiative”, which enabled the UNGA session. The article seeks to highlight the significance of the recent UNGA resolution on Palestine and the position of the key players on the issue.  

Background

The question of Palestine was first brought to the halls of the UN in 1947. Through resolution 181 (II), UNGA terminated the former British Mandate and partitioned the territory into two independent states, a Palestinian Arab state and a Jewish state. In due course of time, the Jewish state gained UN membership and sovereign status as the “State of Israel”. However, the debate on Palestine’s UN membership and universal recognition of its statehood is still under discussion.

In 1974, UNGA reaffirmed “the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to “self-determination, national independence, sovereignty, and to return” under resolution 3236 (XXIX). In the same year, it also approved the status of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as an “Observer” by adopting resolution 3237 (XXIX). In 1988, UNGA decided to replace “PLO” with “Palestine” and accorded it the status of non-state observer category under resolution 43/177. Responding to the construction of illegal housing units by Israel in Palestine territory, the General Assembly convened the 10th Emergency Special Session (ESS) in 1997, which is currently an ongoing session and is temporarily adjourned.

President Mahmoud Abbas approached the UN for Palestine’s membership in 2011. However, the application failed to reach the UNSC as the “Committee on Admission of New Members” was unable to reach a consensus. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) admitted Palestine as a member but at the cost of getting its funds suspended by the United States (US). Under US law, Washington is not allowed to fund any UN body that grants full membership to any group that does not possess the “internationally recognised attributes” of statehood. Washington, however, resumed funding in 2023 in light of rising Chinese influence. In 2012, UNGA upgraded Palestine’s status from “non-state observer” to “non-member observer state” through resolution 67/19 and endorsed this effort as an alternative to Palestine’s bid for full membership in 2011.

Recently, on 2nd April, Palestine again requested the UN Secretary-General to consider its membership application, submitted in 2011. On 18th April, a resolution backed by the Arab Group was introduced in the Security Council seeking full UN membership for Palestine. The resolution, however, failed to pass due to the lone negative vote by the US. The American veto, however, triggered the Veto Initiative, which enabled the General Assembly to convene a meeting on 10th May 2024 to discuss the issue of Palestine’s membership.

The Veto Initiative – A Critical UN “Working Method” Reform

Despite the pressure from the international community, reform attempts at the structural level of the UNSC have been largely unsuccessful. The last reform in the UNSC took place in 1965 when the number of non-permanent members was expanded from 6 to 10, as membership in the UN mushroomed in the rapid decolonisation phase. In this context,  the recent Veto Initiative can be considered a critical procedural reform to make the Veto-holding powers accountable for their actions. It would also enable the UNGA to engage more robustly in matters of international peace and security.

On 26th April 2022, the General Assembly passed resolution 76/262, allowing the convening of a meeting within ten days of a negative vote cast by a permanent member of the UNSC. It also mandates the UNSC to submit a special report within 72 hours before the commencement of the discussion in the assembly. However, the Veto Initiative would not be applicable if the General Assembly met under an ESS on the same issue. The Veto Initiative was brought against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine conflict to curb Moscow’s attempts to Veto UNSC resolutions. The last time UNGA convened a session based on the Veto Initiative was on 6th May to discuss the 24th April Russian Veto on the draft UNSC resolution regarding the militarisation of space. The UNGA session, however, did not lead to any productive result apart from giving member-states a chance to voice their opinions.

The 10th May UNGA Resolution on Palestine

On 18th April, the US vetoed the UNSC resolution on Palestine’s membership. In response, the resolution’s sponsors, the Arab Group, took the matter to the General Assembly under the continuation of the 1997 10th ESS. The Secretary-General also decided to convene the meeting under the Veto Initiative. On 10th May, UNGA passed resolution A/ES-10/L.30/Rev.1 with 143 nations in favour, nine against and 25 abstaining. The resolution urges the Security Council to reconsider its 18th April decision to grant full membership. It has also upgraded certain privileges and rights of Palestine at the world body as an “Observer State”, which would be activated after the conclusion of the 79th session of UNGA in September 2024.

Some of the major upgrades include: (i) To be seated among Member States in alphabetical order; (ii) Make statements on behalf of a group (iii) Submit proposals and amendments and introduce them; (iv) Co-sponsor proposals and amendments (v) Propose items to be included in the provisional agenda of the regular or special sessions and the right to request the inclusion of supplementary or additional items in the agenda of regular or special sessions; (vi) The right of members of the delegation of the State of Palestine to be elected as officers in the plenary and the Main Committees of the General Assembly; (vii) Full and effective participation in UN conferences and international conferences and meetings convened under the auspices of the General Assembly or, as appropriate, of other UN organs.

Response from US and Israel

Responding to the passing of the 10th May UNGA resolution on Palestine, US Deputy Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood has remarked it as “unproductive”. The US has previously warned that it is likely to Veto any such further requests at the UNSC. Washington claims that it is supportive of Palestine gaining UN membership but strongly considers that it should only arrive through negotiated settlements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

In an analogy to Nazi Germany, Israel views Palestine as a terror state overrun by Hamas and granting Palestine membership into the UN will be akin to inviting terrorists into the UN body. Upon the UNGA resolution’s passage on 10th May, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz regards it as an “absurd decision” that highlights the “structural bias of the UN” and rewards Hamas for its action on 7th October 2023. Gilad Erdan, the Permanent Representative of Israel to the UN, has remarked that he expects Washington to halt funding to the UN and its institutions if the Resolution on Palestine is approved.

India’s Position :

India has always stood by its position for a two-state solution. While it has strongly condemned the 7th October Hamas terror attacks, it has also asserted the right of Palestine to establish statehood and live side by side in peace with Israel. India was the first non-Arab nation to recognise PLO as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestine people in 1974. India was also one of the first countries to recognise the “State of Palestine” in 1988. In the aftermath of the US Veto on Palestine’s membership, On 2nd May, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ruchira Kambhoj, stated that the issue should be reconsidered and in due course, Palestine should be granted membership

Conclusion

While Israel gained UN Membership and recognition of statehood in 1949 through the act of UN resolution, Palestine, however, has languished as an “Observer” for more than 50 years. Gaining a UN membership is vital for any political entity to be universally recognised as a sovereign state and to take part in all aspects of the normal functioning of a state, like bilateral and multilateral partnerships. In this light, the 10th May UNGA Resolution holds historic significance as it accorded special privileges to Palestine and has put pressure on the UNSC to reconsider its membership application. However, the chances of Palestine gaining UN membership at this stage seem highly unlikely as it would get Vetoed by the US. The UN, too, would not bypass the established procedures as it would risk getting defunded by its largest sponsor. The recent 10th May UNGA resolution, however, showcases the willingness of like-minded UN members to utilise the Veto Initiative to demand accountability from the US, which was initially brought in to put pressure on Moscow.