United Nations


The General Assembly has presently 193 member states, each having one vote.

On 29 November 2012, the General Assembly voted to accept State of Palestine as a non-member observer state (the Vatican also has that status). This enables the State of Palestine to take part in UN Assembly debates and to join UN Agencies and Conventions. The Palestinian flag also flies outside the UN headquarters in New York.


The Security Council has 15 members, each representing a member state. There are five permanent members (China, France, Russia, UK and USA), with the other ten elected for two-year terms.

A resolution requires nine votes in favour to be adopted. Any one of the five permanent members can veto a resolution.

Between 1972 and 2011 the USA vetoed 42 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, which would otherwise have been passed.


UNOCHA – UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs – http://www.unocha.org/

This agency is part of the UN secretariat and was set up in 1998. Its aim worldwide is to co-ordinate response to emergencies. There has been a ‘country office’ for the Occupied Palestinian Territories in East Jerusalem since 2002. Its website address is www.ochaopt.org. It comments that “many Palestinians continue to have humanitarian needs that are created by ongoing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including threats to life, liberty and security, restrictions on access and movement of people and goods to and within the OPT, and the risk of forced displacement”. Its publications include a weekly Protection of Civilians report and a monthly Humanitarian Bulletin together with other reports, maps etc.

ECOSOC – UN Economic and Social Council – http://www.un.org/en/ecosoc/

This body was established by the UN Charter of 1946 to advise on economic, social and environmental issues. Its latest report on Palestine was in May 2015, which includes a systematic critique of Israel’s treatment of Gaza; you can find the report HERE.

UNHCR – Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees – http://www.unhcr.org/

This agency was set up in 1950 and reports to ECOSOC and the General Assembly. Its involvement in Palestine includes support and advocacy for refugees who are asking the Israeli government for asylum. 

UNESCO – UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation – http://en.unesco.org/

This was created in 1945 on the basis that “Peace must be established on the basis of humanity’s moral and intellectual solidarity”. Israel is a member and (since 23 November 2011) so is the state of Palestine. UNESCO maintains an office in Ramallah and its web address is http://www.unesco.org/new/en/ramallah/home.

In June 2012 the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was declared a World Heritage site and there are other initiatives to protect Palestinian cultural heritage.







UNICEF- UN International Children’s Emergency Fund – http://www.unicef.org/

This is the principal agency for promoting child welfare, created by the UN in December 1946. It has an office for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, whose web link is http://www.unicef.org/oPt/ . Besides offering material assistance, it issues updates, for example a telling report HERE on water supply.

UNRWA – UN Relief and Works Agency – http://www.unrwa.org/

This agency was set up by General Assembly 302 on 8 December 1949 for the assistance of “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” It provides assistance to more than 5 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. 


Those who say the United Nations could play a part in stopping the conflicts should know that the United Nations already has a substantial military force in the region.

UNIFIL (UN interim Force In Lebanon) – this was formed in March 1978 to confirm the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. At the end of June 2015 it numbered 10,410 troops and over 850 civilians drawn from 37 countries (including Ireland). More information HERE

UNTSO (UN Truce Supervision Organisation) – set up by the Security Council in May 1948 at the time of the Palestinian Nakba, this force had (at the end of June 2015) 142 military observers and 235 civilians drawn from 25 countries. It plays an observer role only. More information HERE.

UNDOF (UN Disengagement Observer Force) – set up by the Security Council at the end of May 1974, this force is stationed in the ‘Area of Separation’ between Syria and the Golan Heights (also Syrian, but occupied illegally by the Israelis). At the end of June 2015 it had 789 troops and 158 civilians from six countries (including Ireland). More information HERE.



This body was set up by the UN Charter in June 1945. It rules on disputes submitted by member states and issues advisory opinions on matters referred by UN organs and specialised agencies. 

On 8 December 2003 the UN General Assembly voted to ask the Court for an advisory opinion on Israel’s Apartheid Wall. The court’s opinion, handed down on 9 July 2004, was that the wall and its associated regime is contrary to international law. The opinion and the extensive case papers can be seen HERE.


This is not in fact a United Nations body but was set up in July 1998 by the Statute of Rome (which became effective in July 2002). The statute has  been adopted by 123 states including Britain and (as of January 2015) the State of Palestine. Israel and the United States are among the states who have not adopted it.

The Palestinians are asking the ICC to investigate those responsible for the attack on the Mavi Marmara in 2010. The Palestinian group Badil has also prepared in February 2016 a dossier (see HERE) relating to Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, entitled No Safe Place: Crimes against humanity and war crimes.