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The Impact of the Palestinian Bid for Non-member Observer State Status on U.S.-UN Relations

November 28, 2012
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has submitted a draft resolution to the UN General Assembly requesting they be recognized as a “non-member observer state” rather than its present status of "observer entity."   On November 29, member states within the UN General Assembly (GA) voted on the resolution to change the Palestinian Authority’s status. This change in status will not result in the PA being able to vote in the General Assembly or become voting members of any UN committee. While the United States opposed this effort, it must not react in a retaliatory manner—such as withdrawing funding to the UN— which would drastically undermine American security, political, and economic interests.

What does it mean to be a Non-member Observer State? 

  • Non-member states with observer status have access to most UN meetings. They cannot vote in the General Assembly or run for elected positions, such as a seat on the Security Council.
  • Elevating an entity to non-member observer state status in the GA requires a majority vote of member states present and voting. As there is no question of full membership in such cases, the UN Security Council plays no role.
  • UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon holds no authority over the decision.
  • Designation as a non-member state does not entail automatic membership to other UN agencies.  It could pave the way for admission in some other international organizations, including the International Criminal Court, that do not require parties to be full-fledged members of the United Nations. 

What are the implications of the Palestinians becoming a non-member state?

  • The designation is driven by UN member states, and not the UN as an institution itself. Indeed, blaming the UN as an institution for the political proclivities of its members is like decrying the Verizon Center for the Wizards losing.
  • The U.S. cannot allow other nations’ political agendas to drive us out of the UN.  The decision whether to fund the UN must be based on the totality of U.S. security, political, and economic interests served by the institution.
  • Retaliatory action, such as withholding U.S. funding from the UN would represent the worst possible option. Targeting the UN would only put the U.S. into arrears, undermine our legitimacy on the global stage, and weaken our ability to support and defend Israel at the UN.
  • Additionally, it would cripple ongoing UN initiatives that are critically important to advancing U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives like:
  • UN political missions working to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan; 
  • Efforts to maintain global sanctions against Iran and North Korea; 
  • Delivery of humanitarian aid to vulnerable populations around the world.
Labels: Advocacy

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