Seeking full membership, Abbas says it’s UN’s ‘last chance’ to salvage peace role

PA president presents letter to UN chief in meeting ahead of General Assembly, pushing doomed bid for Palestine’s full-member status given US plan to block it in Security Council

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L) meets with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the United Nations headquarters in New York on September 19, 2022. (Mission of Palestine to the UN/Twitter)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L) meets with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the United Nations headquarters in New York on September 19, 2022. (Mission of Palestine to the UN/Twitter)

NEW YORK — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas urged United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday to assist Ramallah’s effort to obtain full-member status at the UN, ahead of the General Assembly’s annual high-level meeting.

Abbas’s office said that during the meeting, he also presented Guterres with a letter outlining the importance of the initiative.

“Despite all the complexities of the prevailing reality and all the frustrations that abound, there is still a last chance to salvage the role of the UN in peace,” reads a summary of the closed letter tweeted out by the Palestinian Mission to the UN. “UN Membership for Palestine is a necessary step towards achieving the ultimate objective of an independent, free and peaceful State of Palestine.”

In 2012, the General Assembly voted to grant the Palestinians observer status at the UN, a largely symbolic rank but one that has allowed them to join over 100 international treaties and conventions as a state party.

Abbas sought to gain full-member status a year earlier but the effort failed to make it out of the UN Security Council due to opposition from then-US president Barack Obama’s administration.

The PA president has run into the same obstacle this time around as he has sought to rally support for the initiative over the past several months.

Abbas asked for Biden’s support for the Palestinians to obtain full-member status when he hosted the US president in Bethlehem in July. Biden did not provide an answer at the time, but his aides have several times since then informed their Palestinian counterparts that they have no intention to support it and have even urged the PA to halt the effort, two US and Palestinian officials confirmed to The Times of Israel.

Longstanding US policy has maintained that granting the Palestinians membership to UN agencies that recognize their state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would serve as a counterproductive bypass to negotiations with Israel.

Much of the administration’s opposition is rooted in the recognition that full Palestinian membership at the UN would trigger congressional legislation forcing the US to withdraw funding from the UN, which the White House desperately does not want to do as it works to boost Washington’s international standing.

For his part, Guterres has not taken a public position on the PA initiative and his spokeswoman said last month that the matter is up to UN member states to decide.

However, Guterres did open up the high-level UN summit on Tuesday by condemning Israel’s military rule over the Palestinians.

During his Monday meeting with Abbas, the two also discussed efforts to bolster the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, Guterres’s office said. “The Secretary-General and President Abbas reaffirmed their shared commitment to efforts towards achieving a two-State solution, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of Israel and Palestine, in accordance with international law, relevant UN resolutions and prior agreements.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

In his letter to Guterres, Abbas wrote that full-membership status would be “consistent with the Palestinian people’s natural, legal and historic rights.”

“It is time to work together to ensure the State of Palestine’s rightful place among the community of nations, including as a full member of the UN, without further delay,” he added.

Speaking to The Times of Israel last month, Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour refused to offer a timeline for when his office would formally submit a resolution to the Security Council requesting a vote on elevating his office’s standing.

Mansour insisted that “there will be an overwhelming majority of countries that will be happy to accept admitting us as a full member state,” adding that his colleagues on the Security Council have responded “excitedly” to the initiative as well.

Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour addresses the Security Council on August 8, 2022. (Screen capture/UN TV)

Asked how he expected the US to respond, Mansour said, “It would be hard to explain that in addition to being reluctant to hold Israel accountable for destroying the two-state solution before our eyes, you would also oppose a positive way that contributes to saving the two-state solution, which is the official policy of the United States.”

Abbas will address the UN General Assembly on Friday morning and is expected to raise the matter then as well.

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