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The Question of Palestine’s UN Membership


Israel’s conflict with Gaza has sparked numerous ethical, political, and diplomatic debates. A notable diplomatic issue drawing significant attention is Palestine’s renewed bid for United Nations (UN) membership. Ironically, this bid is stalled at the UN Security Council (UNSC), primarily due to the geopolitical considerations of the United States. The U.S. contends that membership should follow, not precede, a negotiated resolution to the long-standing conflict.


GS2- Important International Institutions, agencies and fora – their Structure, Mandate.

Mains Question:

A notable diplomatic issue drawing significant attention today is Palestine’s renewed bid for United Nations (UN) membership. In this context, discuss the norms and procedure governing the grant of UN Membership to a country. What has been India’s stand in Palestine’s bid for UN membership? (15 Marks, 250 Words).

Palestine Seeking UN Membership:

  • This is not the first instance of Palestine seeking UN membership; a similar attempt in 2011 was also blocked by a U.S. veto in the UNSC. Currently, Palestine holds non-member observer status.
  • This April, after the UNSC failed to reach a consensus on Palestine’s application due to a solitary U.S. veto, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) intervened to express support for the Palestinian bid.
  • On May 10, the UNGA overwhelmingly passed a resolution affirming Palestine’s eligibility for full UN membership and urged the UNSC to consider Palestine’s request favorably.

Norms and Politics:

Standard Procedure:

  • The UN mandates that prospective members be “peace-loving” states and capable and willing, in its judgment, to fulfill the obligations of the Charter.
  • Although these criteria are broadly interpreted, the procedural threshold for admission, dictated by the political dynamics of the five permanent members (P5) of the UNSC, remains decisive and challenging.
  • Membership applications must be recommended without explicit opposition from any P5 member before the UNGA can accept the request.
  • In essence, a negative vote by any P5 member, exercising their veto power, prevents the UNSC’s recommendation, whereas no such veto exists in the UNGA, which requires a two-thirds majority for decisions.

Resolving Deadlock:

  • During the Cold War, numerous admission requests stalled in the UNSC, prompting the UNGA to seek the World Court’s opinion on whether it could admit states without the UNSC’s recommendation.
  • The Court ruled in 1948 that a UNSC recommendation is necessary for the UNGA to exercise its admission power.
  • This ruling led to the breaking of the deadlock in the UNSC, resulting in the recommendation of all pending applications and a steady increase in membership from the 51 founding members to 193 today.
  • UN membership is widely regarded as a sought-after confirmation of sovereign statehood for countries that have gained independence from foreign rule or occupation.
  • Mongolia’s case is comparable to Palestine’s current situation. When Mongolia’s application was stuck in the UNSC, the UNGA intervened with a resolution similar to the one in Palestine’s case, suggesting Mongolia deserved a favorable UNSC recommendation. Mongolia eventually gained membership in 1961.

India’s Approach:

  • India was among the 142 member countries that supported the UNGA resolution in May 2024, which favored Palestine’s bid for membership.
  • India believes that granting membership status to Palestine could improve the chances of achieving a two-state solution to the longstanding Israel-Palestine conflict.
  • India’s stance on this issue aligns with the Nehruvian principle that UN membership should be available to all state applicants without discrimination.
  • Historically, India has never opposed any country’s membership. For instance, India supported Pakistan’s admission to the UN in 1947 and endorsed the representation of the People’s Republic of China in 1971, despite having prolonged border conflicts with China.
  • While the U.S. and the former USSR/Russian Federation have blocked many membership applications, China has also played a role in such rejections.
  • After joining the UNSC in 1971, the People’s Republic of China vetoed Bangladesh’s application for membership despite its recent liberation.

Way Forward:

  • Palestine cannot achieve full membership in the UN without passing through the UNSC, and the U.S. veto remains a significant obstacle.
  • China and Russia are concerned that bypassing the UNSC could set a precedent for the admission of territories like Taiwan or Kosovo.
  • In a less likely scenario, the U.S. might abstain from using its veto, potentially as a sign of disapproval towards Israel for not heeding its advice to cease attacks on Gazan civilians, thereby allowing the UNGA to approve Palestine’s membership. This could lead to Israel protesting and potentially quitting the UN.
  • If the UNSC stalemate persists, the UNGA might consider excluding Israel from its deliberations. Such a move, while short of suspending or expelling Israel—actions that require UNSC recommendation—has historical precedents.


South Africa during apartheid and the Serb Republic of Yugoslavia during ethnic cleansing were both barred from participating in the UNGA. Besides these theoretical options, increasing Palestine’s participatory privileges—short of granting voting power in the UNGA and eligibility for election to major UN organs—would signal a rejection of might over right in this era.

June 2024