The United Nations General Assembly has voted to allow the raising of both Palestine and the Vatican’s flags on UN buildings. The resolution was to allow non-member observer states (of which there are only two: Palestine and the Vatican) to have their flags fly alongside those of the United Nations 193 member states. 119 delegates voted for the resolution, while 8 voted against it and an additional 45 abstained.
The resolution drew much attention for how Israel may react to such a move from the General Assembly. Palestine and Israel have been in an ongoing dispuit for more than half a century, about a range of complex issues and the latest round of peace negotiations are currently stalled.
A key issue for the UN has been Palestine’s status as an independent state. While Palestine declared independence in 1988, numerous countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy and Israel have not recognised it’s sovereignty. This was a topic of discussion when Palestine was admitted to the UN in 2011.
While the Vatican will also now be allowed to raise their flags outside United Nations buildings, they declined to be named in the resolution, and did not campaign for it. Archbishop Bernadito Auza, Vatican’s UN ambassador, told the assembly that “the Holy See has always respected the 70-year practice and the traditions of the United Nations that there are only flags of member states that are flown at the United Nations.” Auza did indicate, however, that the Vatican may raise it’s flag sometime following Pope Francis’ September 25 visit to the United Nations now that the resolution is passed.
Palestinian UN ambassador Riyad Mansour labelled the vote as historic and called it “another step towards fulfilment of the promise of independence made to the Palestinian people nearly seven decades ago … Of course we know that raising our flag will neither end the (Israeli) occupation nor solve the conflict immediately. But raising the flag will signal to our people everywhere … that their freedom is inevitable, and the international community supports them in their journey for justice.” Mansour also reaffirmed his hope that “we may see the day when the state of Palestine and the state of Irael live side by side in peace, coexistence and security, and sharing the bonds of a new era in our region and in our global community.”
Israel’s ambassador Ron Prosor was less thrilled with the resolution, labelling it’s goal a “photo op” but also offered a message of hope for the future: “History proves to us that negotiations can be fruitful, that peace is possible, and that we can create a new reality for the people of the region. I look forward to seeing the image of an Israeli prime minister and a Palestinian leader standing side by side, raising the flags of our two peoples, living together in peace. That will be a photo truly worth taking.”
Israel was one of the eight countries that voted against the resolution, along with Australia, Canada and the United States. In an address to the General Assembly before the vote, U.S. ambassador Samantha Power said: “Our vote reflects the reality that the parties themselves must ultimately take the constructive, responsible steps required to achieve a two-state solution and end the cycle of violence and suffering that has persisted for far too long in the Middle East.”
While the passing of the resolution by the General Assembly carries no legal weight, the United Nations says it will be guided by the vote.