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US veto sinks Palestinian UN membership bid in Security Council

US veto sinks Palestinian UN membership bid in Security Council
4 min read
Twelve countries voted in favour of the draft resolution recommending full Palestinian membership of the UN. The United Kingdom and Switzerland abstained.
The US has vetoed a UN Security Council draft resolution recommending full Palestinian membership of the United Nations [Fatih Aktas/Anadolu/Getty]

The United States on Thursday spoiled a long-shot Palestinian bid for full United Nations membership, vetoing a Security Council measure despite growing international distress over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The move by Israel's key ally had been expected ahead of the vote, taking place more than six months into the brutal Israeli war on Gaza.

Twelve countries voted in favour of the draft resolution recommending full Palestinian membership. The United Kingdom and Switzerland abstained.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's office called the US veto "a blatant aggression" and "an encouragement to the pursuit of the genocidal war against our people… which pushes the region ever further to the edge of the abyss".

The draft resolution called for recommending to the General Assembly "that the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations" in place of its current "non-member observer state" status, which it has held since 2012.

Ahead of the vote, special Palestinian envoy Ziad Abu Amr told the Council that "granting Palestine full membership at the United Nations will lift some of the historic injustice that succeeding Palestinian generations have been subjected to".

Ambassador Amar Bendjama from Algeria, which introduced the draft, said: "Failure to act is a serious unforgivable mistake. Failure to wake up today is a license for continuing injustice and impunity.

"Failure to do so is everlasting shame."

Any request to become a UN member state must first earn a recommendation from the Security Council – meaning at least nine positive votes out of 15, and no vetoes – followed by endorsement by two-thirds majority of the General Assembly.

The United States, Israel's main ally, has not hesitated in the past to use its veto to protect Israel, and did not hide its lack of enthusiasm for Palestinian UN membership in the weeks leading up to the vote, as the Palestinians and other Arab states implored the Council to recommend full membership.

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Washington has said its position is unchanged: that the UN is not the venue for recognition of a Palestinian state, which must be the result of a deal with Israel on ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

"The United States continues to strongly support the two-state solution," US Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood said after the vote Thursday.

"This vote does not reflect opposition to Palestinian statehood, but instead is an acknowledgement that it will only come from direct negotiations between the parties."

Israel's UN envoy Gilad Erdan slammed the fact that the Council was even reviewing the matter, calling it "immoral".

Israel's government opposes a two-state solution, the outcome supported by most of the international community.

The majority of the UN's 193 member states (137, according to a Palestinian count) have meanwhile unilaterally recognised a Palestinian state.

The last veto of a resolution for UN membership dates back to 1976, when the United States blocked Vietnam's entry.

The measure's failure represented a "sad day", Chinese Ambassador Fu Cong said, calling the US veto "most disappointing".

UN Secretary-General António Guterres painted a dark picture of the situation in the Middle East, saying the region was "on a precipice".

"Recent days have seen a perilous escalation – in words and deeds," Guterres told a high-level Security Council meeting, referencing Iran's weekend missile and drone attack on Israel, which came as retaliation for a deadly Israeli strike on its consulate in Damascus.

"One miscalculation, one miscommunication, one mistake, could lead to the unthinkable – a full-scale regional conflict that would be devastating for all involved," he said.

The UN chief also said Israel's military offensive in Gaza had created a "humanitarian hellscape" for civilians trapped there, calling on Israel to allow more aid into the territory.

At least 33,970 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip, according to the enclave's health ministry.

A Hamas-led attack on 7 October resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people in southern Israel, mostly civilians, according to official Israeli figures.

"It is high time to end the bloody cycle of retaliation," Guterres said.