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United Nations: "Palestine" Status Upgraded in General Assembly

(July 7, 1998)

On July 7, 1998, the United Nations General Assembly voted to upgrade the status of the Palestinians, giving them a unique status as a non-voting member of the 185 member Assembly. The Arab states originally submitted a resolution to upgrade the Palestinians' status in December, but it did not come to a vote for more than six months. The vote in favor was overwhelming, 124 in favor and 4 against with 10 abstentions. The countries opposing the resolution were Israel, the United States, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.

This is the latest step in the Palestinians' advancement at the U.N. In 1974, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was granted observer status, enabling it to maintain an office in New York but without all of the privileges that come with being a member. In 1988, the PLO's status was upgraded when the General Assembly designated the PLO as “Palestine.”

With the new designation, Palestinian representatives can raise the issue of the peace process in the General Assembly, cosponsor draft resolutions on Middle East peace and have the right of reply. They still will not have voting power or be allowed to put forward candidates for U.N. committees such as the Security Council.

The Arabs had originally sought greater powers, including the right to sit with other independent states and to sponsor resolutions. They compromised after the Europeans told the Arabs that they would only support the resolution if the most controversial political items were removed. Still, their new status gives the Palestinians procedural privileges that exceed those of other groups with U.N. observer status such as Switzerland or the Vatican.

The United States and Israel objected to the resolution, maintaining that it was a unilateral action. The peace process involves two parties, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and when one of the parties takes an action affecting the final status issue, it is considered to be unilateral. Russia, a cosponsor with the U.S. on Middle East peace negotiations voted for the resolution. James Rubin, a State Department spokesman, told the Washington Post that Russia is entitled to make its own decision, although “we think that their decision was the wrong one.“

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the vote as a “minor correction of Palestinian status ” at the U.N., but criticized the Palestinians for violating their agreements with Israel.

The vote indicates once again the strong sympathy the Palestinian cause enjoys internationally and demonstrates the likelihood that a Palestinian state, when declared or created, would be recognized by virtually every nation in the world.

Sources: United Nations