x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Palestine is but one of many aspiring to the United Nations

Admission to the General Assembly of the UN is not open to all. The Palestinian Territories are just one of several regions without a seat at the world's top table.

Admission to the General Assembly of the UN is not open to all. The Palestinian Territories are just one of 10 regions without a seat at the world's top table.
Admission to the General Assembly of the UN is not open to all. The Palestinian Territories are just one of 10 regions without a seat at the world's top table.

What defines a nation state? A territory occupied for hundreds, if not thousands, of years? A common language and religion? An elected government? Embassies and representation on international bodies? A declaration of independence?

On all these accounts, the Palestinian Territories pass the nationhood test. Except for the most crucial of them all - full membership of the United Nations General Assembly.

There are currently 193 states in the UN but the Palestinians hold only permanent mission status, conveying the right to speak at General Assembly meetings but little else.

The latest attempt to obtain enough votes for membership of the UN looks increasingly likely to flounder, brought down by American and Israeli objections.

No nation can join the UN without the unanimous support of the five permanent members of the Security Council, of which the US is one.

The Palestinians are not the only people caught in this diplomatic limbo. Around the world, there are at least 11 other nations seeking UN membership, many with just as little chance as the Palestinians, which at least has membership of the Arab League and a long list of supporters.

Some are almost unknown outside their immediate borders.

Their names often sound as if they have come from a comic opera but the aspirations of their people are deeply felt and their national stories often tragic. Many are the result of the fracturing of the old Soviet Union in 1991.

The Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, better - although hardly - known as Transnistria, is a narrow, ragged strip of land along Romania's border with Ukraine. After declaring independence 20 years ago, it is recognised only by two other fragments of the former Soviet empire, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, also outside the UN community of nations.

Most friendless of all is Somaliland, which split from Somalia in May 1991. The country of 3.5 million people has a flag, a national anthem and an army but it is unrecognised by any other state, inside or outside the UN.

The Republic of Kosovo is recognised by 84 UN member states and has joined the International Monetary Fund, but its existence is challenged by neighbouring Serbia and its close ally, Russia, also with a Security Council veto. As a result, its membership of the General Assembly remains stalled.

The island of Taiwan, better known as the Republic of China, is claimed as sovereign territory by the People's Republic of China, another permanent member of the Security Council. It is recognised by nearly two dozen other states with UN membership.

Several states have, however, gained full membership of the UN from permanent observer status. The majority were the defeated powers after the Second World War, which led to the founding of the UN, and include Italy, Japan, Austria and the divided Germany. Kuwait had observer status from 1962 to 1963 after gaining independence from Britain, while the UAE went to full UN membership within days of the foundation of the federation in December 1971.

On the flip side, the Holy See, which includes the Vatican City, which has permanent member status of the UN, maintains diplomatic relations with nearly 180 nations and is permitted to ratify international treaties.

Strangest of all is the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, a Roman Catholic order founded nearly 1,000 years ago that has no territory since it was evicted from Malta by Napoleon Bonaparte.

Now with a headquarters in Rome, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, as it is usually known, claims sovereign status, maintains diplomatic missions and enjoys the same status at the UN as the Palestinians.

Why is full membership of the UN General Assembly so coveted? Beyond the flag fluttering outside the UN headquarters in New York and the place names in the assembly hall, it includes the right to join UN agencies and be party to international treaties, such as the International Criminal Court. More than that, it is a chance to look the rest of the world in the eye. In the words of the UN, it is a place of equals, where "each nation, rich or poor, has one vote".


On the long road to nationhood

Here are the 12 regions seeking international recognition, ranging from those whose existence is denied by the entire world to those with limited UN status.


Kosovo enjoys diplomatic relations with some of the UN’s most powerful nations, including the United States and much of Europe. But its own membership of the General Assembly is blocked by Russia, an ally of Serbia, and with a veto thanks to its permanent membership of the Security Council. Following the break-up of Yugoslavia, the territory declared independence from Serbia in 2008 but had previously spent 10 years under the protection of the UN after Serbian forces were driven out in 1999. Its population of nearly two million is about 90 per cent ethnic Albanian and includes both Muslims and Christians.

Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (Transnistria)

The Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic or Transnistria (sometimes Transdniestra) to its friends, which consist solely of Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia. This narrow strip of land largely follows the path of the Dniester River as it snakes between Moldova and Ukraine on its way to the Black Sea. It declared independence from Moldova in 1990 and secured its existence after a ceasefire ended the “War of Transnistria” in 1992, in which up to 700 people were killed. The country has its own national anthem, currency, flag and parliament but survives largely due to the presence of the Russian 14th army, supporting the largely Russian-speaking population of 518,000.


After declaring independence in 1999, this wedge of territory bounded by Russia and the Black Sea is still claimed by Georgia. Fighting in 1993 had already forced the Georgian-speaking population to flee, with several thousand people killed. Russian troops have been deployed several times and citizens of the Republic of Abkhazia can apply for joint Russian citizenship. About a quarter of the 200,000-strong population are believed to have done so. After years of diplomatic isolation, Russia formally

recognised Abkhazia in 2009. The only other UN nations to do so are Nicaragua, Venezuela and the tiny Pacific islands of Vanuatu, Nauru and Tuvalu.

South Ossetia

South Ossetia is part of the Republic of Georgia and borders North Ossetia in Russia. Tensions in the region led to war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, after which South Ossetia formally declared independence from Georgia. The population of 70,000 has historically allied itself with Russia and most citizens have Russian passports. Russia has since recognised South Ossetia, as have the UN member states of Nicaragua, Venezuela, Tuvalu and Nauru. It is also recognised by Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria, all outside the UN.


Created in 1988 after a bloody war with secessionists and Azerbaijan, the territory is surrounded on three sides by the former Soviet republic. The region has long experienced ethnic tensions and the fighting killed an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people and forced about one million people from their homes. A Russian-sponsored ceasefire came into effect in 1994 and was followed by a 2006 referendum that approved a new constitution. Nagorno-Karabakh still controls large areas of Azerbaijan, causing further tensions in the South Caucasus. It has missions in several countries, including the US, France and Lebanon, but is recognised only by Abkhazia, Transnistria and South Ossetia.

Sahrawi Arab Republic

Western Sahara, a desert territory on the Atlantic coast of Africa, is a former Spanish colony claimed by both Morocco and Algerian-backed separatists. In 1976, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) was formed, along with a new government. Fighting continued between the SADR and Morocco until a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991. Talks on a formula for independence have stalled ever since. The SADR claims recognition from 84 UN members, mostly in Africa and the developing world, and is a full member of the African Union but not the Arab League. India initially recognised the SADR but withdrew this in 2000.

Holy See

The Holy See is frequently confused with the Vatican, the smallest independent state in the world. In fact, the Holy See represents the diocese of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome, of which the Vatican is often regarded as its capital. The Holy See, headed by the Pope, maintains diplomatic relations with 179 nations and a bilateral relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organisation. It has conducted diplomatic missions since the 4th century and in 1964 was granted permanent observer status by the UN, allowing it to attend all sessions of the General Assembly. Its status was confirmed in 2004, allowing the Holy See to intervene in any debate.

Turkish Republic of North Cyprus

Hostility between the Greek and Turkish communities on the island of Cyprus came to a head in 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the north of the country following a military coup supported by Athens. The result was the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, separated from the rest of the island by a UN buffer zone. Independence was formally declared in 1983 but the republic is recognised by only one member of the UN – Turkey. A UN Security Council Resolution passed in the same year condemns the independence bid and confirms the Republic of Cyprus as the sole authority on the island. The European Union admitted the Republic of Cyprus as a full member in 2004.


The most friendless country in the world? Uniquely unrecognised by any other nation, Somaliland, on the Gulf of Aden, was born after the overthrow of Siad Barre, the military dictator of Somalia in 1991. Independence was finally claimed after a referendum in 2001. Somalia still claims Somaliland as territory, although the territory now has a functioning political system along with a currency and a police force. The country has some political contact with two of its neighbours, Ethiopia and Djibouti, and with a number of European nations, including Britain and France. It has its own dispute with Puntland, an autonomous region of Somalia. Parts of eastern Somaliland have claimed allegiance to Puntland.

Palestinian Territories

Resolution 3237 gave the Palestine Liberation Organisation observer status in December 1974, while the State of Palestine was declared by the national council of the PLO in Algiers in 1988. Following the declaration of independence, the UN General Assembly voted to use the name Palestine rather than Palestine Liberation Organisation. PLO delegates are seated in the UN and have the right to speak but not to vote. Currently, 127 out of 193 member states of the UN recognise a State of Palestine, representing 75 per cent of the world’s population. Those that do not include most of western Europe, Australia and North America. These include Britain and the US, both permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Sovereign Military Order Of Malta

Regarded as the oldest order of chivalry in the world, the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta has no territory and does not claim any. Yet it maintains the status of permanent observer at the United Nations after being admitted in 1994. The order claims to be a sovereign entity and has established diplomatic missions in more than 100 countries. The order carries out charitable work with the poor and sick and has its headquarters in Rome, where it moved after being expelled from Malta by Napoleon in 1798.

Republic of China (Taiwan)

When China came under communist rule in 1949, the existing government fled to the island of Taiwan, where it has remained. China continues to claim that the Republic of Taiwan belongs to it and should be reunited, using military force if required. Tensions between the two countries have eased slightly, with a trade pact last year and direct communications for the first time. Taiwan has a population of 23 million and a thriving manufacturing base that includes motor vehicles and computers. It has diplomatic relations with nearly two dozen nations and the Vatican City but its own membership of the UN is blocked by China, which, as a permanent member of the Security Council, has a veto.