Palestinians win upgraded UN status by wide margin

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Originally published in BBC News

The UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to recognise Palestine as a non-member observer state – a move strongly opposed by Israel and the US.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said this was the “last chance to save the two-state solution” with Israel.

Israel’s envoy to the UN said the bid pushed peace process “backwards”, while the US said the move was “unfortunate”.

The Palestinians can now take part in UN debates and potentially join bodies like the International Criminal Court.
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Today the world will hear our voice”

Amir Hamdan in Ramallah, West Bank

Palestinians celebrate historic day

The assembly voted 138-9 in favour, with 41 nations abstaining.

Hundreds of Palestinians celebrated on the streets of Ramallah, in the West Bank after the result was announced.
‘Birth certificate’

“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,” Mr Abbas said shortly before the vote in New York.

President Mahmoud Abbas: “The last chance to save the two state solution”

“The General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the State of Palestine,” he said.

But Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the vote “meaningless”, and said that Mr Abbas’ address in New York had not been “the words of a man who wants peace”.

Opponents of the bid say a Palestinian state should emerge only out of bilateral negotiations, as set out in the 1993 Oslo peace accords under which the Palestinian Authority was established.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the vote “unfortunate and counter-productive”, saying it put more obstacles on the path to peace.

Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, says the only way to achieve peace is through negotiation

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also called for more talks, saying the resolution underscored the need to resume meaningful peace negotiations.

The UK abstained from the vote, as did Germany. The Czech Republic, Canada, the Marshall Islands and Panama were among the nations voting with the US and Israel.

In the West Bank, crowds celebrated the vote by waving flags and chanting “God is great!”

“For the first time, there will be a state called Palestine, with the recognition of the entire world,” Amir Hamdan was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

“Today the world will hear our voice,” he added.
Symbolic milestone

The Palestinians are seeking UN recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, the lands Israel captured in 1967.
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How did key countries vote?

Nations which voted in favour of the bid: France, Spain, Belgium, Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Turkey, China, Russia, India, Brazil, South Africa, Nigeria
Nations which voted against the bid: Israel, US, Canada
Nations which abstained: UK (had asked for assurances that the Palestinians would seek negotiations with Israel “without pre-conditions”), Germany, Australia, Colombia

While the move is seen as a symbolic milestone in Palestinian ambitions for statehood, the “Yes” vote will also have a practical diplomatic effect – such as potentially increased Palestinian participation in debates and the joining of UN agencies and bodies – says the BBC’s Barbara Plett, at the UN.

Last year, Mr Abbas asked the UN Security Council to admit the Palestinians as a member state, but that was opposed by the US.

Mr Abbas was much criticised by many Palestinians for remaining on the sidelines of the conflict earlier this month in Gaza and efforts to achieve a ceasefire with Israel.

His Fatah movement, based in the West Bank, is deeply split from the militant Hamas movement which governs Gaza.

Gaza’s Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh said in a statement sent to the BBC that Hamas’ “support for the UN bid is based on the ‘rule of non-recognition of the occupier’… and the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland”.

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