Factfile on observer status at the United Nations

23rd September 2011, Comments 0 comments

The Palestinians are poised to formally apply for full UN membership for a Palestinian state along the lines which existed before the 1967 Six Day War.

Since 1974, the Palestinians have held the status of an observer entity within the world body, but should the request for full membership be blocked in the Security Council, they say they will seek General Assembly approval to be upgraded to a non-member observer state.

Here is an explanation of the difference between being an observer entity and an observer state, and Palestine's current standing within the UN.


The Palestine Liberation Organisation was granted observer status by a General Assembly resolution in 1974. The resolution said the PLO would be invited to "participate in the sessions and the work of the General Assembly."

In 1988, the UN began using the designation "Palestine" rather than PLO.


The United Nations grants observer status not only to states, but also to international bodies such as the International Criminal Court or regional organisations such as the European Union.

There are no clear procedures on how to become an observer, and associated powers vary accordingly. As a general rule, observer entities have access to most meetings and relevant documentation, but are not allowed to vote.


Palestine is currently classified as an observer entity.

In a 1998 resolution, the General Assembly outlined in eight points the rights of Palestine. Mainly, it has the "right to participate in the general debate of the General Assembly," including on topics other than Middle East issues.

It also has the right to "co-sponsor draft resolutions and decisions on Palestinian and Middle East issues" which can then be put to a vote.

However, Palestine does not have voting rights.


The only non-member state with observer status at the United Nations is the Vatican. Its powers, detailed in a 2004 resolution, are not much different from what Palestine currently has as an observer entity, although it has greater facilities in participating in the work of the General Assembly.

One key difference is that the Vatican can directly circulate any communications relating to a specific meeting to member states or other parties as official documents.

This status would also allow Palestine to become a full member of UN agencies such as the World Health Organisation, the child welfare agency UNICEF and the UNESCO world heritage body.

But it would not have the right to vote.


Palestine's ultimate goal is to become a member of the world body, allowing it all the rights of other member states, including the right to sponsor and vote on General Assembly resolutions and the right to field candidates for key UN posts.

Membership, which requires nine votes from the 15-member Security Council then a simple majority in the General Assembly, would confer legitimacy to Palestine as a legitimate actor on the international stage.

© 2011 AFP

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