United Nations votes on Palestine’s status

On November 29, the United Nations General Assembly voted and decided to make Palestine a non-member “observer state”. Palestine previously held the status of “observer entity”.  A year ago, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had requested a full membership to the United Nations, which was not approved. This year, Abbas requested for a lower status, which puts Palestine in a better position than it was in and gives it access to some other international organizations. Vatican City also has a non-member observer state status to the United Nations.

What is Palestine? Most countries around the globe recognize Palestine to be two areas called the Gaza Strip and West Bank, both of which are occupied territories under Israel. If you look at a map, you’ll see that the Gaza Strip and the West Bank don’t border each other. The Palestinians want these regions to be recognized as an independent country, with its own government and its own land. Their efforts in trying to become a bigger part of the United Nations is a way of reaching that goal.

For centuries, the Jewish and Palestinian people have both lived in the same geographical region. Today, the area is called Israel, but it was also called Palestine in the past. Since that region is “home” for both sets of people, they have strong disagreements about who should get to live where. Exactly 65 years ago (on November 29, 1947), the United Nations proposed splitting the country into two regions – one for Jews and one for Palestinians. They didn’t agree, and fighting broke out. By the time the initial fighting was over in 1948, the Jewish people had created a country called Israel. This was followed by a war between Israel and some Arab countries (Jordan, Egypt, and more). The war ended in 1949 but by then many Palestinian people had fled to two areas. One was called the Gaza Strip, which borders Israel and Egypt, and was under Egyptian control. The other was called West Bank, which borders Israel and Jordan, and was under Jordan’s control. In 1967, there was another war between Israel and some Arab countries, including both Jordan and Egypt. At the end of the war, which lasted for 6 days, Israel took over both the Gaza Strip and West Bank. In the 1990s, agreements were signed by the Palestinian and Israeli leaders giving some control of the Gaza Strip and West Bank to the Palestinian people. Since then the two groups have been trying to figure out how to split the land. Palestinians say that the Gaza Strip and West Bank (including the area called East Jerusalem) is “Palestine”. One issue is that Israel considers East Jerusalem as part of the city of Jerusalem, which is Israel’s capital city. Another issue is that many Jewish people now live in the West Bank. If West Bank becomes Palestine, their future is uncertain. No agreement has yet been reached.

To make things even more complicated, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are currently controlled by different groups of Palestinians. A group called Hamas controls Gaza Strip, and a group called Fatah controls the West Bank. Abbas belongs to Fatah, and is considered by most nations as the leader of the Palestinian people.

Israel and the Gaza Strip were throwing bombs at each other for about a week and on November 21, agreed on a truce.

The United Nations is an international peace organization. There are 193 countries that are members of the United Nations. Israel joined the UN as a full member in 1949.

Did you know? The founder of the group Fatah was Yasser Arafat, a Palestinian leader who died due to health problems in 2004. His name has been in the news lately, and that is because a few scientists, after examining some of his belongings, suspect that he was poisoned. His remains have been dug up and are being examined to see if further clues can be discovered.  Arafat had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.


Did you know? Vatican City is considered to be the world’s smallest independent state.


Image Credits: USA State Dept for West Bank and Gaza image