Share via Email This article is over 5 years old The United Nations general assembly voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to recognise Palestine as a state, in the face of opposition from Israel and the US. The member assembly voted in favour of the plan, with only nine against and 41 abstentions.
The scale of the defeat represented a strong and public repudiation for Israel and the US, who find themselves out of step with the rest of the world. Thursday's vote marked a diplomatic breakthrough for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and could help his standing after weeks in which he has been sidelined by Palestinian rivals Hamas in the Gaza conflict.
Several hundred people turned out in Yasser Arafat square in Ramallah on the West Bank, waving flags and singing along to nationalist music to mark the occasion. In his address, Abbas noted the symbolism of the date, the 65th anniversary of the UN partitioning what had been British-ruled Palestine into Jewish and Arab countries.
In the decades that followed, the idea of an independent Palestine had often been in danger of disappearing but had been "miraculously" kept alive, he said. The general assembly resolution had finally given legitimacy to Palestine, he said. The office of the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, described Abbas's speech as incitement and full of lies about Israel.
Ron Prosor, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations , said: Hillary Clinton , the US secretary of state, described the vote as "unfortunate and counterproductive". The key is the final word, which confers UN legitimacy on Palestinian statehood and, while it cannot vote at the general assembly, it will enjoy other benefits, such as the chance to join international bodies such as the International Criminal Court ICC.
While important, the resolution is limited, elevating Palestine only to the status of the Vatican, which until Thursday had been the only other non-member observer state. For Palestinians, the idea of an independent state bears little reality on the ground, given the degree of Israeli involvement in the West Bank and Gaza. Britain and Germany both abstained, with Britain saying Abbas had failed to promise he would resume peace negotiations with Israel.
Some countries, especially in Europe, switched from abstention to support out of a feeling that Abbas needed to be bolstered after eight days of conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians earlier this month.
An estimated Palestinians died in Gaza, and six Israelis were killed. They have since largely backtracked over the threats, concerned that withdrawal of major funding might undermine Abbas at a time when he is particularly vulnerable. Palestinian officials say they have no immediate plans to do so but it remains a new and useful lever for the future. The Obama administration, in an effort to try to persuade the Palestinians to drop the vote, sent deputy secretary of state Bill Burns to see Abbas on Wednesday.
But Abbas turned down his pleas. The US, Israel and Britain wanted the Palestinians to give explicit pledges they would not seek to join the ICC any time soon and also to resume peace negotiations with the Israelis that were abandoned in over a settlement expansion. When the Israeli ambassador began addressing the UN, the crowd in the square watching on a giant television screen began booing. Prosor's speech was suddenly cut, and nationalist music fired up.