A Palestinian man shouts slogans during a rally in the West
Bank city of Ramallah. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
The 193-nation UN General Assembly on Thursday
overwhelmingly approved the de facto recognition of the
sovereign state of Palestine after Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas called on the world body to issue its long
overdue "birth certificate."
The UN victory for the Palestinians was a diplomatic setback
for the United States and Israel, which were joined by only a
handful of countries in voting against the move to upgrade
the Palestinian Authority's observer status at the United
Nations to "non-member state" from "entity," like the
Britain called on the United States to use its influence to
help break the long impasse in Israeli-Palestinian peace
talks. Washington also called for a revival of direct
There were 138 votes in favor, nine against and 41
abstentions. Three countries did not take part in the vote,
held on the 65th anniversary of the adoption of UN resolution
181 that partitioned Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab
Thousands of flag-waving Palestinians in the West Bank and
the Gaza Strip set off fireworks and danced in the streets to
celebrate the vote.
The assembly approved the upgrade despite threats by the
United States and Israel to punish the Palestinians by
withholding funds for the West Bank government. UN envoys
said Israel might not retaliate harshly against the
Palestinians over the vote as long as they do not seek to
join the International Criminal Court.
If the Palestinians were to join the ICC, they could file
complaints with the court accusing Israel of war crimes,
crimes against humanity and other serious crimes.
The much-anticipated vote came after Abbas denounced Israel
for its "aggressive policies and the perpetration of war
crimes" from the UN podium, remarks that elicited a furious
response from the Jewish state.
"Sixty-five years ago on this day, the United Nations General
Assembly adopted resolution 181, which partitioned the land
of historic Palestine into two states and became the birth
certificate for Israel," Abbas told the assembly after
receiving a standing ovation.
"The General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth
certificate of the reality of the State of Palestine," he
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded quickly,
condemning Abbas' critique of Israel as "hostile and
poisonous," and full of "false propaganda."
"These are not the words of a man who wants peace," Netanyahu
also said in a statement released by his office. He
reiterated Israeli calls for direct talks with the
Palestinians, dismissing Thursday's resolution as
Granting Palestinians the title of "non-member observer
state" falls short of full UN membership - something the
Palestinians failed to achieve last year. But it would allow
them access to the ICC and other international bodies, should
they choose to join them.
Abbas did not mention the ICC in his speech. But Palestinian
Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told reporters after the
vote that if Israel continued to build illegal settlements,
the Palestinians might pursue the ICC route.
"As long as the Israelis are not committing atrocities, are
not building settlements, are not violating international
law, then we don't see any reason to go anywhere," he said.
"If the Israelis continue with such policy - aggression,
settlements, assassinations, attacks, confiscations, building
walls - violating international law, then we have no other
remedy but really to knock those to other places," Maliki
Abbas led the campaign to win support for the resolution,
which followed an eight-day conflict this month between
Israel and Islamists in the Gaza Strip, who are pledged to
Israel's destruction and oppose a negotiated peace.
At least 17 European nations voted in favor of the
Palestinian resolution, including Austria, France, Italy,
Norway and Spain. Abbas had focused his lobbying efforts on
Europe, which supplies much of the aid the Palestinian
Authority relies on. Britain, Germany and others chose to
The Czech Republic was unique in Europe, joining the United
States, Israel, Canada, Panama and tiny Pacific Island states
likes Nauru, Palau and Micronesia in voting against the move.
Peace talks have been stalled for two years, mainly over
Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which have expanded
despite being deemed illegal by most of the world. There are
4.3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
After the vote, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan
Rice called for the immediate resumption of peace talks.
"The Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that
little about their lives has changed save that the prospects
of a durable peace have only receded," she said.
"The United States calls upon both the parties to resume
direct talks without preconditions on all the issues that
divide them and we pledge that the United States will be
there to support the parties vigorously in such efforts,"
She added that both parties should "avoid any further
provocative actions in the region, in New York or elsewhere."
Britain's UN ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, told reporters it
was time for recently re-elected U.S. President Barack Obama
to make a new push for peace.
"We believe the window for the two-state solution is
closing," he said. "That is why we are encouraging the United
States and other key international actors to grasp this
opportunity and use the next 12 months as a way to really
break through this impasse."
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in an
impassioned speech before the vote that Thursday's events
should help, not hinder the peace process.
"Granting Palestine the status of non-member state at the UN
can serve as a booster," he said. "It will create the long
needed momentum for a negotiated, comprehensive solution,
rather than becoming a substitute for it."