Security Council to discuss Palestinian bid for full UN membership

The United States is expected to block the revived 2011 application


Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour speaks during a UN Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, at the UN headquarters in New York on March 25, 2024. After more than five months of war, the UN Security Council for the first time passed a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The United States, Israel's ally which vetoed previous drafts, abstained. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP) (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

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 UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Security Council President Vanessa Frazier of Malta, indicated support from 140 member states who already recognise 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,” US Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood told reporters last Tuesday, noting that the issue of full Palestinian UN 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 UN 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 the 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 UN 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 US veto, but the application failing to garner the nine required votes on the 15-member council. Concerns included whether the Palestinians could meet the UN’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 UN 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 issue 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 October 7 invasion of Israel. The text of the resolution contains language noting that 139 member states have recognised a Palestinian state and expresses the intent of the council to welcome the Palestinians as a full UN member.

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