Updated Apr 17, 2024 - World

Palestinian president rejected U.S. requests to hold off on UN membership vote

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the United Nations (UN) Security Council on February 11, 2020 in New York City.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the UN Security Council on Feb. 11, 2020. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected requests by the Biden administration to not move forward with a vote at the United Nations Security Council on accepting Palestine as a full member of the UN, four Palestinian, U.S. and Israeli officials told Axios.

The big picture: Tension, frustration and mistrust have been growing between the Abbas government and the Biden administration over the last three years. The Palestinian president sees the administration as not acting to push a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Driving the news: The UN Security Council is expected to vote as soon as Thursday on a draft resolution that would give Palestine full member status at the UN instead of its current observer status.

  • Gaining full member status — which would amount to the UN recognizing a Palestinian state — first requires nine votes to bring a resolution before the 15-member UN Security Council.
  • The council, which includes the U.S., would need to approve the application, and it would then have to receive at least two-thirds of General Assembly votes.

Behind the scenes: U.S. and Israeli officials said the Biden administration is trying to prevent the Palestinians from getting the nine votes so the U.S. won't have to veto the resolution.

  • A U.S. veto of such a resolution, especially amid the war in Gaza, would bring sharp criticism for Biden internationally and inside his own party, including with some of his supporters.

Between the lines: A U.S. official said the Biden administration has been exploring in recent months options for a possible recognition of Palestine, but not as a unilateral bid at the UN.

  • The official said the administration looked at scenarios of recognition as part of a wider regional deal that includes a post-war plan and normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Context: Two weeks ago, the Palestinian ambassador to the UN sent a letter to the UN secretary-general asking to renew the request for full membership at the UN for Palestine.

  • After the Palestinian request, the UN Security Council formed a committee to discuss it and issue an opinion.
  • The committee presented its report on Tuesday and said the 15 council members are divided regarding the question of whether they should recommend accepting Palestine as a full member of the organization, according to a copy of the report.

Over the last two weeks, the Biden administration has been pressing Abbas and his advisers to back off from their request, U.S., Israeli and Palestinian officials say.

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised the issue directly in a phone call with Abbas, and other U.S. officials raised it with their Palestinian counterparts almost every day in the last two weeks, Palestinian and U.S. officials say.
  • The Biden administration made clear to the Palestinians that current U.S. law compels the administration to veto such a resolution or defund the UN, a U.S. official said.

According to the officials, Abbas rejected the U.S. pressure and his aides told the Biden administration they are moving forward with the vote.

  • A senior Palestinian official said the Biden administration asked whether Abbas would suspend the bid if he is invited to meet with Biden at the White House.
  • The Palestinian official said Abbas rejected this trade-off and said he agreed to such a U.S. proposal a year ago but never got an invitation.
  • U.S. officials admitted they failed in convincing the Palestinians to suspend their UN bid.

What they're saying: "We wanted the U.S. to provide a substantive alternative to UN recognition. They didn't. We believe full membership in the UN for Palestine is way overdue. We have waited more than 12 years since our initial request," the Palestinian official said.

  • The State Department didn't respond to a request for comment.

State of play: The Palestinians currently have eight security council members expected to support them: Russia, China, Algeria, Malta, Slovenia, Sierra Leone, Mozambique and Guyana, a senior Israeli official said.

  • The U.K. is expected to abstain. The U.S. and Israel are lobbying France, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea and Ecuador to vote against or abstain from voting so the Palestinians don't reach nine votes, the official said.
  • U.S., Israeli and Palestinian officials said that if these efforts fail, the Biden administration is expected to veto the resolution.
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