A clubbable admission: Palestine’s case for UN membership

May 14, 2024
Protesting for an end to the genocide in Gaza in Gadigal/Sydney on May 12. Photo: Peter Boyle

“I find it rather difficult to make it clear to my children why we are not eligible, for from one point of view it isn’t quite clear to me.” — X, “The Jew and the Club,” The Atlantic, October 1924.

Just as the golfing establishment of the US east coast historically prided itself with keeping Jews from membership, the United Nations, another albeit, larger, club, functions on similar principles when it comes to certain applicants.https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gif

Do you have the right credentials to partake in the body’s constituent parts? Do you satisfy the seemingly elementary criteria proposed in the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States? These are a permanent population, a defined territory, an identifiable government and a capacity to enter into relations with other states.

Meeting that threshold, the assumption of recognised statehood and, it follows membership, should be a matter of minor controversy.

What is not mentioned in the United Nations Charter is the political dimension beneath the text: states are refused admission, let alone recognition, on grounds both petty and substantial.

For Palestinians, the still incomplete road to recognition, let alone UN membership, has been particularly difficult.

In November 1988, the Palestine National Council, the legislative wing of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, declared the existence of the State of Palestine.

In 2011, an application was made for admission to the United Nations.

All the way, their claims have been challenged. Israel, having pinched Palestinian land, guards the door to admission with zeal, confident, for the most part, that a viable Palestinian state will never come into being.

On May 10, the UN General Assembly resolved (143 votes in favour, nine against, including the US and Israel, iced with 25 abstentions) to sanitise the Palestinian application to become a member of the club.

The significantly diluted resolution is enormously condescending.

The UN summary suggested an “upgrade” to “the rights of the State of Palestine within the world body, but not the right to vote or put forward its candidature to such organs as the Security Council or the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).”

The Assembly merely found Palestine a suitable candidate for full membership, recommending the Security Council “reconsider the matter favourably”.

What can the Palestinian delegation actually do with its revised status?

From September, delegates will be able to make, for instance, statements on behalf of a group, submitting proposals and amendments and their introduction.

They will qualify for election as officers in the plenary and Main Committees of the General Assembly. They will also be able to fully participate “in UN conferences and international conferences and meetings convened under the auspices of the General Assembly or, as appropriate, of other UN organs”.

It is hardly breathtaking, although it is an improvement on the current “observer status”, better described as “spectator status”.

Like an applicant to the Savage Club in Melbourne, a private institution which does not allow females to join, the Palestinians were found by the UN to be potentially clubbable.

Exercising all rights of membership will ultimately depend on what the Security Council, notably the permanent five, say.

Some clue of what will happen when the matter comes up for discussion in the Security Council can already be gathered by the sinking, last month, of a previous resolution for Palestinian admission.

The Algerian-sponsored resolution was quashed by the United States, despite receiving 12 approvals. The grounds for doing so were familiar: recognised statehood could only spring from “a comprehensive peace agreement”.

Sustainable peace was only possible “via a two-State solution with Israel’s security guaranteed”. All other matters, including the debate on admission, were “premature”.

This makes the reaction from Israel’s UN ambassador, Gilad Erdan, all the more absurd.

In front of fellow delegates, he placed a copy of the UN Charter into a miniature shredder and declared that granting Palestinians greater rights of representation entailed the following message: “You are telling the child-murdering Hamas rapists that terror pays off.”

The echoes of Ben Gurion and Menachim Begin, founders of Israel, can be detected in that statement.

The unhinged Erdan, perhaps unwittingly, revealed a perspective many had suspected: that Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians is one of conflation, denigration and the eradication of distinctions.

All are terrorists of the animal variety, as Israel’s Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, would have it and all are, at best, only suitable for playing a subservient role on the international stage.

“We always knew that Hamas hides in schools,” Erdan said. “We just didn’t realise that it’s not only in schools in Gaza.  It’s also Harvard, Colombia and many elite universities.”

If that was, indeed, true, then any improvement in the Palestinian situation, culminating in the UN General Assembly vote, must be regarded as pitifully modest.

Palestine remains, at the end of the day, ineligible for full club membership.

[Binoy Kampmark currently lectures at RMIT University.]

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