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Palestine and the UN ‘observer status’

Palestinians are looking for General Assembly approval to be upgraded to a non-member observer state


This file picture shows Riyad Mansour (back, C), Palestine Ambassador to the United Nations with Majed Abdulfattah (L), Basem al Baz (2nd R) and Ahmad Dari (R) carrying a symbolic Palestinian seat to a meeting with UN General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser 15 September, 2011. ( AFP PHOTO/ STAN HONDA)

Ramallah, Palestinian Territories (AFP) – The Palestinians are to formally apply for upgraded UN membership to obtain the rank of a non-member state for Palestine along lines that existed before the 1967 Six Day War.

Since 1974, the Palestinians have held the status of an observer entity within the world body, but now they are looking for General Assembly approval to be upgraded to a non-member observer state.

Here is an explanation of the difference between being an observer entity and an observer state, and Palestine’s current standing within the UN.

HISTORY

The Palestine Liberation Organisation was granted observer status by a General Assembly resolution in 1974. The resolution said the PLO would be invited to “participate in the sessions and the work of the General Assembly”.

In 1988, the UN began using the designation “Palestine” rather than PLO.

OBSERVER STATUS

The United Nations grants observer status not only to states, but also to international bodies such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) or regional organisations such as the European Union.

There are no clear procedures on how to become an observer, and associated powers vary accordingly. As a general rule, observer entities have access to most meetings and relevant documentation, but are not allowed to vote.

OBSERVER ENTITY

Palestine is currently classified as an observer entity.

In a 1998 resolution, the General Assembly outlined the rights of Palestine in eight points. Mainly, it has the “right to participate in the general debate of the General Assembly,” including on topics other than Middle East issues.

It also has the right to “co-sponsor draft resolutions and decisions on Palestinian and Middle East issues” which can then be put to a vote.

However, Palestine does not have voting rights.

OBSERVER STATE

The only non-member state with observer status at the United Nations is the Vatican. Its powers, detailed in a 2004 resolution, are not much different from what Palestine currently has as an observer entity, although it has greater facilities in participating in the work of the General Assembly.

One key difference is that the Vatican can directly circulate any communications relating to a specific meeting to member states or other parties as official documents.

This status would also allow Palestine to become a full member of UN agencies such as the World Health Organisation, the child welfare agency UNICEF and the UNESCO world heritage body.

Membership requires a simple majority in the General Assembly.

FULL MEMBERSHIP

Palestine’s ultimate goal is to become a member of the world body, allowing it all the rights of other member states, including the right to sponsor and vote on General Assembly resolutions and the right to field candidates for key UN posts.

Membership, which requires nine votes from the 15-member Security Council then a simple majority in the General Assembly, would confer legitimacy to Palestine as a legitimate actor on the international stage.

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