The vote itself – for a judge to serve on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) – was a relatively minor one, but Palestinian delegate Riyad Mansour called it symbolically significant.
“It reflects that the international community, particularly the General Assembly, is hungry and waiting for the state of Palestine to become a full member of the United Nations,” he said.
The applause that accompanied the vote underlined again the scale of support for the Palestinian cause at the General Assembly.
Last Thursday, the 193-member body in a single committee session voted on nine separate resolutions critical of Israel, prompting a U.N. interpreter to observe to colleagues – in remarks unintentionally transmitted to delegates – that the focus on just one situation among many around the world was “a bit much.”
“It’s not the only – there’s other really bad sh*t happening, but no-one says anything about the other stuff,” the unnamed interpreter commented, before realizing the microphone had picked up her words, and apologizing.
Critics have long accused the U.N. of blatant bias against Israel, but such an observation coming from a staff member caused a stir.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu played a video clip of the incident during a cabinet meeting and said, “There are moments that tear the hypocrisy off the unending attacks against us and this brave interpreter did so.”
Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, a non-governmental organization, said it is the U.N. rather than the interpreter that should apologize – “for misusing the world body’s precious time and resources to produce politicized and polarizing texts that do nothing to advance Arab-Israeli peace, or to further the genuine protection of human rights.”
“[B] the end of its annual legislative session next month, the General Assembly will have adopted a total of 22 resolutions condemning Israel – and only four on the rest of the world combined,” he wrote in a blog post. “The hypocrisy, selectivity, and politicization are staggering.”
The modern-day State of Israel came into being as a result of a U.N. resolution in 1947 which partitioned the then-British mandated territory into a Jewish and an Arab state. The resolution was accepted by the Jews inhabitants but rejected by the Arab world, and its passage on November 29 is marked at the U.N. each year as politically-charged day of “solidarity” with the Palestinians.
In 2011 Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (P.A.) failed in a bid to win U.N. Security Council support for statehood. The United States, one of the council’s five veto-wielding permanent members, opposed what it saw as an attempt to bypass the process, to which the P.A. has committed itself, of seeking a negotiated settlement to the conflict.
Abbas then turned to the General Assembly, which last November voted overwhelmingly to grant the Palestinians “non-member state” status. Then-U.S. ambassador Susan Rice said the vote “does not establish that Palestine is a state,” but it did boost the P.A. campaign.
Abbas declared the resolution to be the “birth certificate” of the state, and later ordered all references to the P.A. on official stationery and documents to be changed to the “State of Palestine.”
At the urging of the Obama administraion, Abbas did then agree to put off a quest for further U.N. recognition while the P.A. and Israel pursue negotiations.
Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday praised Abbas for giving up “his ability to take issues to the United Nations for a period of time because he’s committed to be part of this process. And he has taken political heat for that, but he believes it’s the right thing to do to be at the negotiating table.”
Before Monday’s vote for a new ICTY judge, the meeting chairwoman welcomed the delegate for “the State of Palestine,” and said he would be permitted to participate in the election in the same manner as member states.
As Mansour then deposited his ballot into the box, applause erupted. Delegates took photos with their phones and devices.
“I think that this is a very, very special moment in the history of the struggle of the Palestinian people at the United Nations,” he told reporters afterwards. “It is another step for strengthening the pillars of the state of Palestine in the international arena.”
The Palestinian mission later tweeted its thanks to member-states “for the cheers and applause.”