NATIONS (Reuters) - The 193-nation U.N. 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 U.N. 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 Vatican.
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 negotiations.
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 U.N. resolution 181 that partitioned
Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states.
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. U.N. 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.
U.S. Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton called the vote "unfortunate and
counterproductive," while the Vatican praised the move and called for an
internationally guaranteed special status for Jerusalem, something
bound to irritate Israel.
The much-anticipated vote came after Abbas denounced
Israel from the U.N. podium for its "aggressive policies and the
perpetration of war crimes," remarks that elicited a furious response
from the Jewish state.
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 said.
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 said in a statement released by his office. He reiterated
Israeli calls for direct talks with the Palestinians, dismissing
Thursday's resolution as "meaningless."
A number of Western delegations noted that Thursday's
vote should not be interpreted as formal legal recognition of a
Palestinian state. Formal recognition of statehood is something that is
done bilaterally, not by the United Nations. (oh...)
Palestinians the title of "non-member observer state" falls short of
full U.N. membership - something the Palestinians failed to achieve last
year. But it does have important legal implications - it would allow
them access to the ICC and other international bodies, should they
choose to join.
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 said.
In Washington, a
group of four Republican and Democratic senators announced legislation
that would close the Palestinian office in Washington unless the
Palestinians enter "meaningful negotiations" with Israel, and eliminate
all U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority if it turns to the ICC.
"I fear the Palestinian Authority will now be able to
use the United Nations as a political club against Israel," said
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the sponsors.
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.
The vote highlighted how deeply divided Europe is on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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 many others chose to abstain.
The traditionally pro-Israel Czech Republic was unique in Europe, joining the United States, Israel, Canada, Panama and tiny Pacific Island states likes Nauru, Palau and Micronesia (who?)in voting against the move.
'HOPE SOME REASON WILL PREVAIL'
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.
She added that both parties should "avoid any further
provocative actions in the region, in New York or elsewhere."
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said he hoped all sides would use the vote to push for new breakthroughs in the peace process.
"I hope there will be no punitive measures," Fayyad
told Reuters in Washington, where he was attending a conference.
"I hope that some
reason will prevail and the opportunity will be taken to take advantage
of what happened today in favor of getting a political process moving,"
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."
reporting by Andrew Quinn in Washington, Noah Browning in Ramallah,
Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Robert Mueller in Prague, Gabriela
Baczynska and Reuters bureaux in Europe and elsewhere; Editing by Eric
Beech and Peter Cooney)
If I'm not mistaken, ultimately the U.S., Israel and Britain has the final say in granting statehood. We shall see how this plays out...