UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. General Assembly voted by a lopsided margin over U.S. and Israeli objections to grant Palestinians a new, enhanced status that acknowledges their cherished goal of statehood.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas won 138 of the assembly’s 193 votes Thursday – including those of some key European states – for his proposal to have the group’s standing upgraded to “nonmember observer state” from “nonmember observer entity.”
It was the use of the word “state” that was most important to Palestinians. Abbas argued that the designation would amount to international recognition of the statehood that Palestinians have not been able to win through decades of negotiation. But it may have little practical effect on their ability to achieve it.
All the same, Palestinians danced in the streets, honked horns, hugged and set off fireworks.
“Today we are a state,” said Khalil Abdulsalam, 35, a government office worker in Ramallah, shouting to be heard over the celebrations. “Today we are a part of the international community and the rest of the world must see us as a state.”
The new status opens the way for the Palestinians to press their interests through U.N. organizations, and some have suggested that they might use the International Criminal Court to fight Israeli settlements or accuse Israel of war crimes.
But it remains unclear how aggressively Abbas will embrace a strategy that risks devastating retaliation from the United States and Israel.
The normally cautious Abbas laid out his plan with ringing declarations about the rights of Palestinians, but with little hint of how far he intends to go. The assembly was being asked “to issue a birth certificate to the reality of the state of Palestine,” said Abbas, who received two standing ovations from a packed hall.
The U.S. and Israel say that the Palestinians should achieve statehood only through direct negotiations with Israel, and consider the proposal a disruptive end-run around negotiations.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United Nations had made an “unfortunate and counterproductive decision” that placed “new obstacles in the path of peace.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angrily denounced Abbas’ speech as “defamatory and venomous.”
“Someone who wants peace does not talk in such a manner,” said a statement from Netanyahu’s office. “The way to peace between Jerusalem and Ramallah is in direct negotiations, without preconditions, and not in one-sided U.N. decisions. By going to the U.N., the Palestinians have violated the agreements with Israel and Israel will act accordingly.”
The United States and Israel have fought the proposal for two years. But they also don’t want the collapse of Abbas’ government because they would then be left to deal with the militant group Hamas, which they formally designate as a terrorist organization.