UN General Assembly votes symbolically in favor of Palestinian membership

The results of a vote on a resolution for the UN Security Council to reconsider and support the full membership of Palestine into the United Nations is displayed during a special session of the UN General Assembly, at UN headquarters in New York City on May 10, 2024. [AFP]

The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Friday to grant the Palestinians additional rights in the global body and backed their drive for full membership, which is blocked by the United States.

Israel's UN ambassador Gilad Erdan reacted angrily to the largely symbolic vote, while Palestinian ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour said it was historic.

With the war in Gaza raging, the Palestinians in April relaunched a request dating back to 2011 to become full members of the United Nations, where their current status is that of a "nonmember observer state."

To succeed, the initiative needed a UN Security Council green light and then a two-thirds majority vote in the General Assembly.

But the United States -- one of five veto-holding members on the Security Council and Israel's closest ally -- blocked it on April 18.

Before Friday's vote, Palestinian ambassador Mansour said "I have stood hundreds of times before at this podium, but never for a more significant vote than the one about to take place, an historic one."

"The day will come when Palestine will take its rightful place among the community of free nations," he added.

But Israeli ambassador Erdan fired back, saying the UN Charter was being abused and making his point by putting a printout of the charter through a shredder as he stood at the podium.

"With this new precedent, we may see here representatives of ISIS or Boko Haram that will sit among us," Erdan said, referring to two jihadist groups.

He said it would give "the rights of a state to an entity that is already partly controlled by terrorists, and will be replaced by a force of child-murdering Hamas rapists."

The United States opposes any recognition of statehood outside of a bilateral accord between the Palestinians and Israel, whose right-wing government is adamantly opposed to a two-state solution.

US Deputy Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood said after the resolution passed that while "our vote does not reflect opposition to Palestinian statehood... it remains the US view that unilateral measures at the UN and on the ground will not advance this goal."

The resolution gives the Palestinians "additional rights and privileges" starting in the next session of the General Assembly, in September.

'Symbolism is what matters'

Richard Gowan, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, said the move could create "a sort of diplomatic doom loop, with the Assembly repeatedly calling for the Council to grant Palestine membership and the US vetoing it."

The text explicitly rules out letting the Palestinians be chosen to sit on the Security Council or to vote in the General Assembly.

But it lets them submit proposals and amendments directly, without having to go through another country, as is the case now.

It also gives them the right to be seated among member states in alphabetical order.

The resolution was approved by a vote of 143 to 9 with 25 nations abstaining.

"The symbolism is what matters," said Gowan. "This resolution is a very clear signal to Israel and the US that it is time to take Palestinian statehood seriously."

The war began with Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,943 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

The Hamas militant group welcomed the passage of the UN measure, which it called "a reaffirmation of international solidarity with our people."