Saturday, May 18, 2024

WORLD | 10-05-2024 17:12

Argentina shifts historic position on Palestine as UN member state

President Javier Milei's government votes against recognition of Palestinian state at United Nations, breaking with its normal diplomatic position.

Argentina broke with its recent diplomatic tradition on Friday as the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of granting the Palestinians some additional rights in the global body.

Of the 193 UN member states, 143 voted in favour of the resolution, which was tabled by the United Arab Emirates and had almost 80 co-sponsors. Nine voted against, including Argentina, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel and the United States, while 25 abstained.

The move is a break from Argentina’s historic position on Palestine and is in line with the country’s shift in foreign policy under President Javier Milei, who has moved the nation closer to traditional Western allies.

The approval of the resolution will allow Palestinians, which have held observer-state status at the UN since 2012, to submit their own resolutions and fully participate in UN and international conferences.

The measure also recommends that the Security Council reconsider Palestinians’ request for full-membership, a move the US blocked last month and said Friday it would do so again.

"I have stood hundreds of times before at this podium, but never for a more significant vote than the one about to take place, an historic one," Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour said before the vote, his voice full of emotion.

He added, "the day will come where Palestine will take its rightful place among the community of free nations."

Israel reacted angrily, with its Ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, saying the resolution made him sick.

"With this new precedent, we may see here representatives of ISIS or Boko Haram that will sit among us," Erdan said, referring to two jihadist groups.

He said it would give "the rights of a state to an entity that is already partly controlled by terrorists, and will be replaced by a force of child-murdering Hamas rapists."

US Deputy Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood called the resolution "an unproductive text."

While "our vote does not reflect opposition to Palestinian statehood," Wood said after the resolution passed," it remains the US view that unilateral measures at the UN and on the ground will not advance this goal."


Sensitive time

With the war in Gaza raging, the Palestinians in April relaunched a request dating back to 2011 to become full members of the United Nations, where their current status is that of a "non-member observer state."

To succeed, the initiative needed a Security Council green light and then a two-thirds majority vote in the General Assembly.

But the United States – one of five veto-holding members on the Security Council and Israel's closest ally – blocked it on April 18.

The resolution says "the State of Palestine is qualified for membership in the United Nations in accordance with Article 4 of the Charter and should therefore be admitted."

It calls on the Security Council to "reconsider the matter favourably."

The United States, however, opposes any recognition of statehood outside of a bilateral accord between the Palestinians and Israel, whose current right-wing government is adamantly opposed to a two-state solution.

While the passing of the resolution will "have a profound impact on the future of the Palestinian people," said UAE Ambassador Mohamed Issa Abushahab, it "does not do justice to the state of Palestine, as it only grants additional rights, meaning that Palestine will remain an observer state."

Richard Gowan, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, said the move could create "a sort of diplomatic doom loop, with the Assembly repeatedly calling for the Council to grant Palestine membership and the US vetoing it."

The draft resolution nonetheless gives the Palestinians certain "additional rights and privileges" starting in the next session of the General Assembly, in September.

'Symbolism is what matters'

The text explicitly rules out letting the Palestinians be chosen to sit on the Security Council or to vote in the General Assembly.

But it lets them submit proposals and amendments directly, without having to go through another country, as is the case now.

It also gives them the right to be seated among member states in alphabetical order.

"The symbolism is what matters," said Gowan. "This resolution is a very clear signal to Israel and the US that it is time to take Palestinian statehood seriously."

As Israel presses on with its war in Gaza against Hamas in response to the October 7 attack, the UN vote allows the Palestinians to gauge support from other countries.

In December, 153 countries out of 193 backed a call for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza war. Ten voted against, including the United States, while 23 abstained.


Rafah ‘humanitarian disaster’

UN chief António Guterres warned Gaza risked an "epic humanitarian disaster" Friday as Israel pressed military operations around its far-southern city of Rafah crippling the work of aid agencies.

Earlier this week, Israeli ground troops seized eastern areas of the city, including the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, but they have yet to enter its main built-up area.

AFP journalists witnessed artillery strikes on the city Friday and the Israeli army said operations were continuing in the east of the city.

"On the Gazan side of the Rafah crossing, the troops eliminated several terror cells during close-quarters combat and with an aerial strike," the military said.

But there was no sign yet of the full-scale assault promised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even after US President Joe Biden threatened on Wednesday to halt some arms deliveries if he goes ahead. 

"If we have to stand alone, we will stand alone," the hawkish premier said in a statement late on Thursday. "We are determined and we are united in order to defeat our enemies and those who want to destroy us."

Netanyahu has said repeatedly that Israel cannot defeat Hamas and extinguish any possibility of the militant group repeating its bloody October 7 attack without sending ground troops into Rafah in search of remaining Hamas fighters.

But Washington has warned that the reputational damage Israel will suffer if it storms a city where an estimated 1.4 civilians are sheltering will far outweigh any possible military gain.

The war began with Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,943 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

Israeli and Hamas negotiating teams left Cairo on Thursday after what Egypt called a "two-day round" of indirect negotiations on the terms of a Gaza truce.

Hamas said that Israel's rejection of a truce plan submitted by mediators at the talks had sent the negotiations back to "square one.”



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