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What to know about the U.N. vote on whether to admit Palestinians as full members

The United Nations Security Council met Thursday to debate whether the U.N. should admit the State of Palestine as a full voting member.
Angela Weiss
AFP via Getty Images
The United Nations Security Council met Thursday to debate whether the U.N. should admit the State of Palestine as a full voting member.

Updated April 18, 2024 at 5:48 PM ET

The U.N. Security Council failed to pass a vote on the Palestinian Authority's bid to join the United Nations as a full member with a final vote of 12 to 1 with an additional member abstaining.

The United States, one of the Security Council's five permanent members, tanked the bid with its veto, unsurprisingly. Officials indicated that the proposal didn't have U.S. support before the vote took place this evening.

For almost 12 years, Palestinians have participated in U.N. sessions as a nonmember observer state. That status also granted Palestinians the ability to join other international organizations — like the International Court of Justice, where an ongoing case has alleged that Israel is committing genocide in its war on Hamas, a charge Israel has denied.

But the limited observer status also means that Palestinians still lack the power to vote on resolutions. And earlier this month, the Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the occupied West Bank, formally asked the Security Council to reconsider its 2011 application. (Gaza is governed by the militant group Hamas.)

"The plight of the Palestinian people started over a century ago and is still ongoing," said Ziad Abu Amr, the Palestinian representative to the U.N., speaking at Thursday's debate. "We have made every possible genuine effort, we have made unimaginable historic concessions in order to achieve a peace that is based on the two-state solution."

What happened Thursday?

The U.N. Security Council voted on whether to recommend the Palestinian bid for full membership. The vote was only one step of the process to full admittance.

The resolution would pass with nine votes in favor, so long as there was no veto from any of the Security Council's five permanent members — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

If the resolution passed, it would have moved to the General Assembly, where it must win a two-thirds majority of the 193 voting members.

What kind of support does Palestinian officials have with the General Assembly?

It's possible that the General Assembly would approve Palestinian statehood.

Support for Palestinian statehood is broad outside of the U.S. and its allies in the West. Earlier this month, Mansour said 140 of the 193 U.N. member states support the creation of a Palestinian state — a total more than the two-thirds needed for a resolution to pass.

International law requires a defined territory, a permanent population, a government and an ability to enter into international relations.

Why did the U.S. oppose the resolution?

The U.S. have long maintained that Palestinian statehood should come after a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians.

"Our principles haven't changed," said Robert Wood, the U.S. deputy ambassador to the U.N., on Thursday before the vote. "It's about, what do you think is the best way to get toward a two-state solution? And our view is that having this vote right now does not do that."

During the debate, Wood said that the U.S. is working toward "an immediate and sustainable cease-fire" in Gaza, and he called on Israel to do more to protect civilian life in Gaza. He blamed Hamas for rejecting Israeli proposals during negotiations over a cease-fire.

"We will also continue direct diplomacy to advocate for normalization of ties between Israel and its neighbors, as well as a political horizon towards a two-state solution so that Palestinians and Israelis can live side by side in peace," Wood said. "We are committed to achieving credible, timebound and irreversible steps toward a two-state solution."

What does Israel say?

Israel opposed the resolution. In January, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doubled down on his longtime opposition to a Palestinian state. Israel "will not compromise on full Israeli control" over Gaza, a stance "contrary to a Palestinian state," Netanyahu said then.

During Thursday's debate, Gilad Erdan, Israel's ambassador to the U.N., had fiery words criticizing the Palestinian application and the Security Council's decision to consider it.

The resolution would have "zero positive impact for any party," Erdan said. "It will cause only destruction for years to come and harm any chance for future dialogue."

"To the Palestinians, the only solution is a solution where the Jewish state ceases to exist. This is not how you resolve a conflict. This is how you ensure more bloodshed, more violence and many more October 7ths," he added. "An agreement can be agreed upon only at the negotiating table, not by forcing it unilaterally here in New York."

Why is this happening now?

The Palestinian Authority last applied for full membership in 2011. The Security Council never voted on the application after the U.S. said it would veto. The following year, the General Assembly voted to recognize to recognize the Palestinian Authority in its current status as a nonmember observer state.

On April 2, the Palestinian Authority asked the Security Council to reconsider the 2011 application.

In the six months since Oct. 7, the day that Hamas led an assault on Israel that left about 1,200 people dead, Israel's military campaign on Gaza has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, many of whom are women or children, Palestinian health officials say, and damaged or destroyed a majority of buildings in the territory.

In the wake of Israel's destructive campaign, international perspectives on the conflict have shifted. In the U.S., where support for Israel was once widespread among both political parties, young people are increasingly more sympathetic to Palestinians. Other long-time Israel allies like the U.K. and France have signaled a greater openness to supporting Palestinian statehood.

With the conflict threatening to boil over beyond the borders of Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Middle East is on a "knife-edge," U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday.

Last weekend, tensions between Israel and Iran reached a new height when Iran launched an unprecedented attack on Israel in retaliation for a strike on an Iranian consulate in Syria.

"Recent escalations make it even more important to support good-faith efforts to find lasting peace between Israel and a fully independent, viable and sovereign Palestinian state," Guterres said at the Security Council debate.

"Failure to make progress towards a two-State solution will only increase volatility and risk for hundreds of millions of people across the region, who will continue to live under the constant threat of violence."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.