What's In Blue

Posted Mon 26 Sep 2011

Consultations on Palestine’s Application for UN Membership

Council members will meet this afternoon in informal consultations to discuss Palestine’s application to the UN (S/2011/592). The application was formally submitted to the Secretary-General on Friday, 23 September by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The application was then sent to the president of the Council who circulated it to all Council members and called for consultations on Monday, 26 September.

It seems this afternoon’s session is being held to decide how the Council will proceed with the application for membership. Admission of new members is decided by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Council.

Although in the past the Council had chosen to make a direct recommendation on admission without referring it to its standing Committee on the Admission of New Members, since 1969 it has generally chosen to refer applications to this Committee.

If there is a lack of consensus on whether to refer the application to the Committee or debate it within the Council, a procedural vote could be taken on this issue. If the proposal is not adopted the application would then be dealt with by the Council.

If the Committee recommends admission it usually presents the Council with a draft resolution and if there is no disagreement over the Committee’s recommendation, the Council would then adopt this resolution. In recent years this has been done “in accordance with the understanding reached in prior consultations” and without either a debate or a vote.

If the Committee is unable to agree on recommending the application to the General Assembly then the Council will have to take a vote. As membership is a substantive issue, at least nine of the fifteen members of the Council, with no permanent members casting a veto, must agree to the admission of the new state. Past practice has shown numerous cases where applicants have not been able to achieve admission because the opposition of at least one permanent member of the Security Council resulted in the use of the veto. If the Council does not recommend the application, it has to submit a special report to the General Assembly who can then ask the Council to reconsider. However, the veto on the admission of a new member has not been used since 1976.

While there are time limits contained in the Provisional Rules of Procedure regarding the referral of a membership application to the General Assembly, they appear to be intended to give the General Assembly sufficient time to consider the Council’s recommendation rather than require the Committee or the Council to make a decision within a certain time frame. It is possible that if the Council is not ready to make a decision on Palestine’s application it could choose to send it to the Committee for an indefinite length of time.

In recent years the practice has been for the Council to complete its consideration of membership applications rather quickly. For instance, in the most recent case, that of South Sudan, the entire process took three days (11-13 July 2011). The first formal meeting of the Council to consider the application and refer it to the Committee, the Committee meeting and the second formal meeting of the Council to adopt its recommendation took two days. The General Assembly then approved the membership application the following day. However, in the past there have been examples of this process taking a long time, even years.

For more details on the provisional rules of procedure, process and practice for admission of a new UN member please see Security Council Report’s 23 September Update Report on Palestine’s Application for Membership to the UN.

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