Opinion: What Does Cambodia’s Vote for Palestine’s United Nations Membership Bid Mean?

The results of a vote on a resolution for the UN Security Council to reconsider and support the full membership of Palestine into the United Nations is displayed during a special session of the UN General Assembly, at UN headquarters in New York City on May 10, 2024.Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP

Cambodia on May 10 voted in favor of a resolution, joining 142 other nations in support of Palestine's bid for full UN membership. Despite receiving overwhelming support, the resolution faced opposition from 9 countries, with an additional 25 abstaining.

This vote is historic because the resolution grants Palestine nearly all the rights of a full member state, except for voting rights in the UNGA—the U.N. General Assembly. Furthermore, the resolution affirms Palestine's eligibility for a U.N. member seat, urging the United Nations Security Council to consider the matter further.

However, despite this significant moment, it is widely anticipated that a full Palestinian membership will likely be rejected by one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, particularly the United States, which holds veto power alongside France, the United Kingdom, China, and Russia. It is indeed unfortunate that the sacrifices of the Palestinian people, including their sweat and blood, may not result in the global recognition of their statehood and equal rights among other nations.

For Cambodia, support for the Palestinians and their course of achieving statehood cannot merely be interpreted as support for Hamas and violent acts of terrorism. Following the October 7 attacks, Cambodia remained firm in its principle of deploring all acts of terrorism and violence against innocent civilians, regardless of their race, culture, or religion. Moreover, the country continued to call on all involved parties to ensure a ceasefire and restrain violence, allowing humanitarian assistance to reach those in need.

It is worth noting that a Cambodian citizen was among those killed in coordinated attacks by Hamas in the Gaza Strip on October 7. Despite Cambodia's strong relations with Israel, with many Cambodians receiving support to study in that country, particularly in agriculture, Cambodians also empathize with the plight of Palestine and take their suffering seriously, standing by its principles as a member of the international community.

Supporting Palestine’s U.N. membership for Cambodia does not imply supporting violence or taking a stance against Israel as a nation. Cambodia vividly remembers that Israel was the first country to bring up the issue of "auto-genocide" perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia at the UN in 1978, while the rest of the world remained silent and failed to act. However, its stance underscores that the world opposes the disproportionate response and extremist ideology pursued by the far-right government in Israel to punish Palestinians, regardless of women and children, following the October 7 attacks. States such as Cambodia inevitably hold a moral responsibility to oppose any actions that lead to the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians, such as genocide or ethnic cleansing, and focus on addressing the suffering and plight of the Palestinian people who face depopulation, deportation, and death, which is an utmost important act of humanity.

Moreover, just as in its position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Cambodia, as a small country with a tragic past, cannot afford to make a wrong decision. Its bold decision to stand in solidarity and defend the values of international law and the global order highlights the paramount importance of unity among states.

Despite its status as a small and least-developed nation, Cambodia can contribute positively by supporting those in need and offering hope to those whose history and sacrifices for recognition should not be ignored or forgotten.

In addition to demonstrating global solidarity, Cambodia can manifest that addressing the ceaseless cycle of global violence and conflict can only be achieved when the world comes together to address the root causes of oppression. A real solution to violence and conflicts cannot be reached unless the oppressed are granted equal rights and a voice to both speak of their suffering and demands. Any attempts to deny rights, freedoms, and the existence of a nation and people can never be part of a civilized and just world system.

While gaining full recognition as a state remains a distant goal with many difficult tasks for Palestine, it is important to recognize that global support for it gaining equal status in the U.N. organs will bolster efforts to achieve a political solution based on the principle of a two-state solution. Although exercising limited governance in parts of the West Bank, a reformed Palestinian Authority represents a beacon of hope for the international community. Strengthening its political position on the international stage holds the promise of uniting Palestinians and fostering constructive negotiations, ultimately paving the way for a sustainable political resolution that nurtures peaceful coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis.

Cambodia's vote in favor of Palestine's UN membership along with other 142 nations also marks a significant act of defiance against powerful nations that have exploited the global system for their benefit. This highlights the urgent need for reform within the current framework. In echoing Tanzanian Foreign Minister January Makamba's sentiment, the world indeed needs to address a system where a single country can obstruct decisions supported by the entire international community. Every member of the global community holds the potential to resist dominance and injustice imposed against their collective will. While reforms are necessary within the UN system to ensure fair treatment and solidarity among nations, no single country should wield unilateral power over global affairs to the detriment of others.

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