Beyond a Seat in the United Nations

Looking from the speaker’s podium, Palestine’s seat in the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly Hall is at the very left corner in the last row for delegations. The wooden desk and ocher-blue chairs are like any other of the interior from the 1950s, including the grey plastic headphones. Only one element is missing: the green, red, and yellow voting buttons, which are replaced with a silver metal plate. Other permanent observers, such as international and non-governmental organizations, are seated in the dark, close to the exit sign. Palestine sits alongside the Holy See and the Vatican, in the same line as Turkey in this sixty-sixth General Assembly session. Although Palestine has a place in the world organization, which was founded “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours,” it is still not a full member of the United Nations.[1]

On September 23, 2011, Palestine’s President Mahmoud Abbas went up to the podium in the morning session during the third day of the General Assembly’s General Debate.[2] He announced:

“I would like to inform you that, before delivering this statement, I, in my capacity as President of the State of Palestine and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, submitted to H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, an application for the admission of Palestine on the basis of the 4 June 1967 borders, with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital, as a full member of the United Nations.[3]

Shortly after, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, stepped in front of the microphone to address the Assembly, and answered: “President Abbas just said on this podium that the Palestinians are armed only with their hopes and dreams . . . . The Palestinians should first make peace with Israel and then get their state.”[4]


[1] U.N. Charter pmbl.

[2] President Mahmoud Abbas’s remarks were given right after the President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, and before the Prime Minister of Japan, Yoshihiko Noda, gave their opening remarks. South Sudan, the newest U.N. member, had just spoken. General Debate: 66th Session, General Assembly of the United Nations (Sept. 23, 2011), http://gadebate.un.org/homepage/2011-09-23.

[3] H.E. Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, President of the Palestinian National Authority, Statement Before the United Nations General Assembly Sixty-Sixth Session General Debate (Sept. 23, 2011), available at http://gadebate.un.org/66/palestine; see also Application of the State of Palestine for Admission to Membership of the United Nations, U.N. Doc. A/66/371–S/2011/592 (Sept. 23, 2011).

[4] H.E. Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel, Statement Before the United Nations General Assembly Sixty-Sixth Session General Debate (Sept. 23, 2011), available at http://gadebate.un.org/sites/default/files/gastatements/66/IL_en.pdf [hereinafter Statement by Netanyahu]. He continued:

“President Abbas just said on this podium that the Palestinians are armed only with their hopes and dreams. Yeah, hopes, dreams and 10,000 missiles and Grad rockets supplied by Iran, not to mention the river of lethal weapons now flowing into Gaza from the Sinai, from Libya, and from elsewhere. . . . The Palestinians should first make peace with Israel and then get their state. But I also want to tell you this. After such a peace agreement is signed, Israel will not be the last country to welcome a Palestinian state as a new member of the United Nations. We will be the first.”