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Fact Sheets: "Palestine" at the United Nations

Just over a year after his failed attempt to convince the UN Security Council to adopt a unilateral declaration of statehood (UDI) for Palestine, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas defied President Obama and decided to take a similar proposition for vote in the General Assembly, a forum within which the Palestinians enjoy an automatic majority. Ironically, Abbas' vote took place on the anniversary of the 1947 UN vote to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. Had the Palestinians accepted that resolution they would be enjoying their 65-year anniversary of independence. Instead, they will leave the UN with only a symbolic victory that upgrades the PA's permanent observer status to non-member observer state status, similar to that held by the Vatican.

While Abbas maintains that the resolution "is the first step to achieve all our national Palestinian rights," the reality is that the resolution changes nothing on the ground and may lead Israel and the United States to take punitive measures against the PA for trying to make an end run around negotiations after being warned of the possible consequences.

With 138 nations supporting the motion (and only 9 opposing), Abbas hopes the resolution will be the first step towards leveraging the international community to force Israel to capitulate to Palestinian demands. This has not worked before and will not succeed now. The only way the Palestinians will achieve statehood is through direct negotiations.

For the last four years, despite the best efforts of US President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to encourage and facilitate talks, Abbas has refused to sit at the bargaining table. During that time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly invited Abbas to talks without preconditions and he renewed that call for talks even after Abbas’s provocative decision to go to the UN.

Though the UN may have granted the PA a higher observer status, "Palestine" still lacks the basic elements of statehood. The Palestinian Authority only controls a fraction of the territory it claims for its state and part of the land it demands infringes on Israel’s sovereignty. In fact, the PA itself is divided - Abbas controlling only the West Bank while Hamas rules Gaza - and a number of the various Palestinian terror groups opposed the UN gambit. "The UN bid doesn't have practical significance," said Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas spokesman. "The Palestinian Authority didn't poll the public before making its decision. A UN request should be based on a Palestinian consensus." The Islamic Jihad's Abdullah al-Shami added: "We will never support Abbas' UN bid. Our goal and our ideals extend beyond the UN General Assembly."

Moreover, the PA lacks an independent judiciary and free press, denies many basic rights to Palestinians under its jurisdiction, and is unable to financially support itself, remaining totally dependent on international aid to pay its bills. Abbas was elected eight years ago to the presidency, but has repeatedly cancelled elections out of fear he and his Fatah party would lose power. And with such limited power, Abbas cannot control his “state.” As the November 2012 Hamas rocket attacks on Israel demonstrated, Abbas  is impotent to influence Hamas and therefore cannot prevent the group from pursuing its goal of destroying a UN member state. In fact, he has not even been able to put a stop to all terror from the West Bank.

The fate of existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians are in doubt now that Abbas has violated the Oslo accords by unilaterally seeking to change the status of the West Bank. This is in addition to ongoing violations to prevent terror and incitement. Israel would now be justified to either cancel the agreements or to violate their provisions. It is unlikely to do so because of the desire to achieve a just peace despite the Palestinian breach.

The Palestinians’ unilateral action also violated the UN’s own Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and 1850 – all stipulating a mutually negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Sixty-five years after rejecting the UN partition resolution that would have created a Palestinian state, the Palestinians still do not recognize that peace and statehood will not come through the international community; they are only possible through direct negotiations with Israel.

Prior to Abbas's speech on September 26 2014 in front of the UN General Assembly, Palestinian officials met with all 15 members of the United Nations Security Council to gauge their responses to a Palestinian bid for statehood and an end to the Israeli occupation of Gaza.  The Palestinian individuals who spoke to the countries recieved positive responses from China, Russia and Jordan, but were met with no response or a negative one from the other 12 members.  The United States, Britain, and Australia all gave the Palestinians definitive answers of "no".  Even if the United States were to use their Security Council veto to nullify any Palestinian statehood resolution, the Palestinian delegation was hoping to get the majority of members of the council (9) to support a statehood bid.  Any of the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom) can use a veto and kill any resolution. 

On Monday December 8 2014 the Palestinian delegation to the United Nations became observers at a meeting of members of the International Criminal Court for the first time.  This upgrade represents a largely symbolic change and will not have any discernable effect on the peace process or Palestinian statehood attempts. 

The United Nations Security Council voted on a Palestinian statehood resolution brought by Jordan on behalf of the Palestinians on December 30, 2014.  The resolution needed nine yes votes out of the fifteen Security Council members in order to pass, but only recieved eight votes after Nigeria abstained from voting at the last minute. Nigerian officials explained why they abstained after stalling to reveal their vote, claiming that they were acting in self-preservation because Israel had been helping them fight insurgency in the country's North-East.  The United States and Australia voted against the measure, claiming that the language reflects a one-sided view of the situation and does not provide for the legitimate security concerns of the Israeli people.  China, France, Russia, Argentina, Chad, Chile, Jordan, and Luxembourg voted in favor of the measure, while Nigeria, Britain, Lithuania, the Republic of South Korea and Rwanda abstained from voting. 

The Palestinian Authority announced it's plans to resubmit the statehood resolution after the Israeli elections, which took place on March 17, 2015.  The Palestinian Authority has not yet announced which day they will resubmit the resolution. 

Palestinian officials responded to the news of Netanyahu's victory in the 2015 election by vowing to increase diplomatic efforts to achieve statehood recognition through the ICC and the Hague.

Members of the United Nations approved a resolution to fly the Palestinian flag outside of the UN headquarters on September 10, 2015. The Palestinian sponsored resolution calls for the flags of non-member observer states to be flown outside the UN headquarters in New York City “following the flags of the member states.” Only eight out of the 119 participanting countries voted against the resolution, and many, including much of Europe, abstained from the vote. During the meeting of the U.N. General Assembly later that month, the Palestinian flag was flown outside of the United Nations headquarters for the first time in history.

The United Nations pulled funding from a Palestinian community center in the West Bank after learning it was named after Palestinian terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, according to a statement released by the office of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on May 29, 2017.  Mughrabi participated in a 1978 bus hijacking on Israel's coastal highway that killed 38 individuals.  

On May 23, 2018, the Palestinian delegation to the United Nations announced that the Palestinians would be joining the UN trade development organization (UNCTAD), the industrial development agency (UNIDO), and the Chemical Weapons Convention under the auspices of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). 

On May 10, 2024, following another unsuccessful attempt to gain official UN Member State status at the Security Council, which was vetoed by the US, the Palestinians sought to circumvent the body by turning to the General Assembly. Draft resolution A/ES-10/L.30/Rev.1, presented on their behalf, resulted in an unprecedented upgrade of the observer status for the Palestinian delegation. This upgrade granted them all rights and privileges typically reserved for a Member State, except for the right to vote in the General Assembly or to nominate candidates to United Nations organs. The resolution passed with a vote of 143-9, with 25 abstentions, despite strong objections from Israel and the US. 

Sources: “UN to vote on Palestinians enhanced status,” BBC (November 29 2012);
Anne Gearan. “UN vote likely to bring showdown over Palestinians,” Seattle Times (November 27 2012);
David Pollock. “Palestine at the UN; mixed messages,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy (November 28 2012);
Aaron David Miller. “Palestinian move at the UN won't solve anything,” CNN (November 28 2012);
United Nations (November 29 2012);
Somini Sengupta. “Palestinians become observers at a meeting of the International Criminal Court,” New York Times (December 8 2014);
Khaled Abu Toameh. “Washington asks for PA dely in submitting statehood bid to UN,” Jerusalem Post (January 28, 2015);
“Palestines flag to fly at UN general assembly,” Newsweek (September 10, 2015);
Ilan Ben-Zion.  UN pulls backing for Palestinian women's center over naming, ABC News, (May 29, 2017);
US weighs UN funding cuts after Palestinians join agencies, Straits Times, (May 24, 2018).