Palestine admitted to the United Nations as an observer state

Yesterday saw a significant step forward for the Palestinians. The United Nations General Assembly voted to admit Palestine to ‘non-member observer State’ status, a step up from its previous status as an observer ‘entity’. The vote breakdown was overwhelmingly in favor with 138 voting yes, just 9 against, 41 abstentions and 5 countries not taking part in the voting. The text of the resolution can be seen here and how each country voted can be seen here.

The countries voting no were the US, Israel, Canada, Panama, the Czech Republic, and the Pacific Island states of Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands and Micronesia.

The Australian Prime minister initially wanted to vote no but faced with a revolt within her own cabinet and party, she compromised and voted to abstain, as did the UK and Germany. But 17 European nations voted ‘yes’ including France, Italy, Austria, Spain, and Norway, Belgium, Norway, Switzerland, and Denmark. Other countries voting yes included Turkey, China, Russia, India, Brazil, South Africa, and Nigeria

[Update: Here is a nice graphic showing the lopsided nature of the vote.]

This vote does not give Palestine full statehood with voting rights in the UN but puts it on the same status as the Vatican. Most importantly, it now becomes eligible for membership in the various UN bodies.

It should be noted that 132 countries have already recognized the State of Palestine so the outcome was not a surprise. What is significant is that the US and Israel exerted a lot of pressure on the Palestinians and its allies not to bring this to a vote at the UN. This was presumably to prevent them from gaining membership to the various UN bodies as a full member. They failed in the effort.

In fact, in return for a yes vote, the UK wanted the Palestinians to promise not to apply for membership in the International Criminal Court (ICC) or the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which was essentially a demand for immunity for Israel from possible war crimes charges, an extraordinary request. It looks like they did not get it. Like the Australians, the UK government too faced enormous public pressure to vote ‘yes’.