Explained | Palestine’s status at the UN

Palestine is currently a non-member observer State, a status that was granted in November 2012 by the UN General Assembly. Photo: AFP

The US has vetoed a resolution in the UN Security Council on the latest Palestinian bid to be granted full membership of the United Nations.

The 15-nation Council voted on a draft resolution April 18 that would have recommended to the 193-member UN General Assembly that the State of Palestine be admitted to membership in the United Nations.

The resolution got 12 votes in its favour, with Switzerland and the UK abstaining and the US casting its veto.

To be adopted, the draft resolution required at least nine Council members voting in its favour, with no vetoes by any of its five permanent members — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Palestine’s status at the UN

• Palestinian attempts for recognition as a full member state began in 2011. 

• Palestine is currently a non-member observer State, a status that was granted in November 2012 by the UN General Assembly.

• This status allows Palestine to participate in proceedings of the world body but it cannot vote on resolutions. 

• Palestine’s flag does fly outside the UN Secretariat building in New York, although it is slightly separated from the UN Member State flags and is not part of the alphabetic line-up.

• The only other non-member Observer State at the UN is the Holy See, representing the Vatican.

• In 2011, the Security Council considered the request but was not able to find unity in sending a recommendation to the General Assembly, which according to the UN Charter must hold a vote involving its 193 Member States.

• Amid the ongoing war in Gaza, Palestine had submitted a request to the Secretary-General on April 2, asking that a 2011 request to become a UN Member State be reconsidered.

How does the UN grant membership to countries?

• Agreement between the UN General Assembly and the Security Council is needed to admit any new Member States.

• Any application for UN membership comes to the UN Secretary-General and then is forwarded to the Security Council and the General Assembly.

• The 15-member organ decides whether or not to recommend the admission to the 193-member General Assembly after its Committee on Admission of New Members deliberates on the matter.

• The process is outlined in the UN Charter, whereby UN membership “is open to all other peace-loving States which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter” and “are able and willing to carry out these obligations”.

• The Council can vote on the proposal and must have at least nine members in favour and none of its permanent members – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States – using their veto power.

• Shortly after receiving a Council recommendation, the General Assembly holds a vote on the matter, with all 193 Member States joining in the process.

• The General Assembly needs a two thirds majority in a vote to admit a new member.

• Once a resolution is adopted, the new member is officially admitted to the UN.

The right to veto

• The creators of the United Nations Charter conceived that five countries — China, France, the USSR (which was succeeded in 1990 by the Russian Federation), the United Kingdom and the United States — because of their key roles in the establishment of the United Nations, would continue to play important roles in the maintenance of international peace and security.

• They were granted the special status of Permanent Member States at the Security Council, along with a special voting power known as the “right to veto”. 

• It was agreed by the drafters that if any one of the five permanent members cast a negative vote in the 15-member Security Council, the resolution or decision would not be approved.

• All five permanent members have exercised the right of veto at one time or another. 

• If a permanent member does not fully agree with a proposed resolution but does not wish to cast a veto, it may choose to abstain, thus allowing the resolution to be adopted if it obtains the required number of nine favourable votes.

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