The UN General Assembly on Thursday overwhelmingly voted to grant Palestine a non-member statehood , leaving naysayers United States and Israel outnumbered. Mahmoud Abbas the Palestinian Authority (PA) president said the vote had been “historic”.
Abbas claimed what he called a long overdue UN “birth certificate” for a Palestinian state with the backing of 138 countries in the 193 member assembly. Nine voted against and 41 abstained. Notable swing votes were the UK who had indicated leaning toward voting yes for Palestine, but closed ranks with the US in New York as expected.
The victory for President Abbas, who had insisted on returning to knock on the UN's door once more after his failed bid for full membership last year, felt sweet for many Palestinians at home and in the diaspora. Netizens reflected their jubilation with comments as '138 voted for what's right' while over in the occupied West Bank thousands celebrated with friendly gunfire, cheers, and flags Ramallah-side. In New York UN HQ a Palestinian flag was unfurled on the spot as the vote was pronounced.
But it was not smiles all round as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned what he called a “venomous” speech of propoganda by the Palestinian leader. Israel was less than thrilled by the Palestinian newly acquired right to join UN agencies and potentially the International Criminal Court (ICC), where it could ask for an investigation of Israeli actions.
Members of the Palestinian team have indicated that Abbas, while in no rush to join the court, could use it as leverage if Israel does not change its policies on the ground.
The Palestinian leadership says it wants to use the upgrade as a launchpad for renewed direct talks with Israel, which have been flagging for years. Abbas admitted that the resolution was “the last chance to save the two-state solution.”
The vote lifts the Palestinian Authority from an observer entity to a “non-member observer state” conferring for 'presumed' Palestine the same rights as Vatican City.
Non-member states, while unable to vote at the General Assembly, are recognised as sovereign states and from there they can submit to become full-members.
Abbas held court for 22 minutes, calling out Israel for its "aggressive policies and the perpetration of war crimes" from the international podium, much to the visible rage of the Jewish state. Abbas was not blind to the struggle on his hands now and in the future. “The rope of patience is shortening and hope is withering.” The United States and Israel slammed the vote “counterproductive.” US ambassador Susan Rice was quick to kill some of the joy in the assembly, dubbing the resolution “an obstacle to peace” and offering a cynical forecast for the Palestinain dream: "And 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.” Her gloom and doom however could not dampen the spirit and Abbas was more than realistic in his grandstanding. “We will act responsibly and positively in our next steps, and we will to work to strengthen cooperation with the countries and peoples of the world for the sake of a just peace.”
Israeli UN ambassador Ron Prosor said recognizing Palestine “will place further obstacles and preconditions to negotiations and peace” and could even lead to increased violence.
The Palestinian Authority and UN agencies are aware that Palestinian participation could also cost the PA hundreds of millions of dollars in funds, to the tune of $200 million from the US alone, because of the vote.
It remains to be seen what greater access to the UN club will mean for the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli problem.