US veto halts Palestinian UN membership bid in Security Council

United Nations Security Council meetingReuters file photo

The United States on Thursday spoiled a long-shot Palestinian bid for full United Nations membership, vetoing a Security Council measure despite growing international distress over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The move by Israel's key ally had been expected ahead of the vote, taking place more than six months into Israel's military offensive in the besieged Palestinian territory, in retaliation for the deadly 7 October attack by Hamas militants on southern Israel.

Twelve countries voted in favor of the draft resolution recommending full Palestinian membership. Britain and Switzerland abstained.

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas's office called the US veto "a blatant aggression... which pushes the region ever further to the edge of the abyss."

"The fact that this resolution did not pass will not break our will, and it will not defeat our determination," Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour said, in tears.

"We will not stop in our effort. The state of Palestine is inevitable. It is real.

"Please remember that once this session adjourns, in Palestine there are innocents paying the price with their lives... for the delay in justice, freedom and peace," he added, as others in the room also cried.

The draft resolution called for recommending to the General Assembly "that the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations" in place of its current "non-member observer state" status, which it has held since 2012.

Despite the US veto, Ambassador Amar Bendjama of Algeria, which introduced the draft, said the resolution's "overwhelming" support "sends a crystal clear message" that the Palestinians belong as a full member state and that their backers "will return stronger and more vocal."

Two-state solution

Any request to become a UN member state must first earn a recommendation from the Security Council -- meaning at least nine positive votes out of 15, and no vetoes -- followed by endorsement by two-thirds majority of the General Assembly.

The United States, Israel's main ally, has not hesitated in the past to use its veto to protect Israel, and did not hide its lack of enthusiasm for Palestinian UN membership in the weeks leading up to the vote.

Washington has said its position is unchanged: that the UN is not the venue for recognition of a Palestinian state, which must be the result of a peace deal with Israel.

"The United States continues to strongly support the two-state solution," US Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood said after the vote Thursday.

"This vote does not reflect opposition to Palestinian statehood, but instead is an acknowledgement that it will only come from direct negotiations between the parties."

Israel had slammed the statehood initiative, with UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan saying so many "yes" votes "embolden" Palestinians to avoid the negotiating table and "make peace almost impossible."

"Speaking to this council is like speaking to a brick wall," he said.

Israel's government opposes a two-state solution, the outcome supported by most of the international community.

The majority of the UN's 193 member states -- 137, according to a Palestinian count -- have meanwhile unilaterally recognized a Palestinian state.

'On a precipice'

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres earlier painted a dark picture of the situation in the Middle East, saying the region was "on a precipice."

"Recent days have seen a perilous escalation -- in words and deeds," Guterres told a high-level Security Council meeting, referencing Iran's weekend missile and drone attack on Israel. It came in the wake of a strike on Iran's consulate in Damascus widely blamed on Israel.

The UN chief also said Israel's military offensive in Gaza had created a "humanitarian hellscape" for civilians trapped there, calling on Israel to allow more aid into the territory.

"It is high time to end the bloody cycle of retaliation," Guterres said.

At least 33,970 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory. The October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people in southern Israel, mostly civilians, according to official Israeli figures.

Hamas said in a statement it "condemns" the US vote.