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U.N. revives Palestinians' bid for membership with vote on new rights

The 143-9 vote with 25 abstentions urges the U.N. Security Council to favorably reconsider the Palestinians' request.

Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour, left, and Malta's Ambassador Vanessa Frazier
Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour, left, and Malta's Ambassador Vanessa Frazier, speak to reporters outside the U.N. Security Council chamber in April (AN/U.N. Web TV)

The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to give Palestine new "rights and privileges" as an interim step toward making it a full member.

The 143-9 vote with 25 abstentions upgrades Palestine's rights at the world body as an observer state without offering full membership. The nine nations that voted against the resolution were Argentina, Czechia, Hungary, Israel, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea and the United States.

The resolution represents a determination that Palestine is qualified and should be admitted as the 194th member of the United Nations – and urges the U.N.'s most powerful arm, the Security Council, to favorably reconsider Palestinians' request.

Implicit in the support for the resolution is growing support for the Palestinian civilians who are caught between Israel's devastating military offensive in retaliation for Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel that killed 1,200 people.

“No words can capture what such loss and trauma signifies for Palestinians, their families, communities and for our nation as a whole," Palestinian U.N. Ambassador Riyad Mansour told the assembly.

Full membership in the U.N. requires the council's approval along with support from at least two-thirds of the 193-nation assembly, where passage is likely since more than 140 members expressed support for Palestine.

The assembly resolution gives Palestine the right to speak on all issues, not only those related to Palestinians and Middle East, and to propose agenda items, reply during debates, and serve as officers in committees. It also lets Palestinians participate but not vote at U.N.-led international conferences.

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan strongly denounced the resolution and its supporters, before the vote. "When it comes to the lives of Israelis and Jews, the U.N. Charter means nothing to you, nada, kaput," he said, inserting two pages of a document entitled "U.N. Charter" into a hand-held shredder for effect. "This day will go down in infamy, and I want the entire world to remember this moment, to remember this immoral act."

Before its passage, the resolution was weakened due to concerns among veto-wielding council members U.S., China and Russia about giving Palestine rights and privileges on an "equal footing" with other nations. It also eliminated language China and Russia opposed because it could have set a precedent for other breakaway territories to seek U.N. recognition.

U.S. opposes the move

The assembly voted in 2012 to upgrade Palestine's status to a "non-member observer state," a de facto recognition of statehood. That lets it participate in all U.N. proceedings but not vote on draft resolutions and decisions.

Palestine won additional rights in 2019, when it chaired the Group of 77 developing countries and China. Those rights, which expired after a year, allowed it to participate more fully in the assembly's business.

With the assembly approving of the measure, the 15-nation council likely will take it up within months. Nine council votes are needed for it to pass.

In April, the United States vetoed a council resolution that had broad support for extending full member status to the state of Palestine. Twelve nations favored it while Switzerland and the United Kingdom abstained.

A more than decade-long effort

The U.S. has said it believes there are unresolved questions about whether Palestine has met all of the criteria to be considered a country and become the U.N.'s 194th member, such as whether it meets the U.N. Charter's requirement for all prospective members to be "peace-loving." U.S. law also bars funding for U.N. agencies that permit Palestine to be a full member.

That happened in 2011, when the Palestinians joined UNESCO as a full member. Republicans in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate moved on Thursday to make it harder for the U.S. to provide international funding for Palestinians, but their effort is unlikely to gain full Senate approval.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas first applied for U.N. membership in 2011, but the effort failed due to lack of council support. Besides the U.S., China, France, Russia and the U.K. are permanent, veto-wielding council members. The other 10 council members hold 2-year seats.

The latest effort is coordinated by the Palestinians' U.N. mission in New York run by the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank but has had no sway in Gaza since Hamas seized power in 2007.

Since Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in a cross-border raid on Israel and kidnapped 250 others on Oct. 7, Israel's retaliatory destruction in the Israel-Hamas war has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Palestinians and uprooted more than 1 million others.

Despite its longstanding support for Israel, the U.S. has said it will not supply Israel with offensive weapons to wage an all-out assault on Rafah, the last major Hamas stronghold in Gaza, where Israeli troops already have wrested some control and closed the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

This is a developing story and has been updated.