The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to grant the Palestinians nonmember observer state status, a major victory in their quest for independent international recognition.
The final vote count was 138-9, with 41 abstentions. The United States and Israel voted against the resolution, along with Canada, the Czech Republic, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Panama.
The vote does not create a Palestinian state, only upgrades the Palestinian Authority’s status within the U.N., putting it on par with the Vatican — the only other entity with nonmember observer state status.
The Palestinian resolution had been widely expected to succeed. The upgraded status means the Palestinian Authority is still unable to introduce resolutions to the General Assembly and must continue to partner with a sympathetic member state to initiate any resolutions. However, officials believe that even as a nonmember state, the Palestinians could join such international bodies as the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Criminal Court.
Before the vote, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — who was greeted with a partial standing ovation — told the international body that this month’s week-long conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza was proof their statehood is essential.
“The Israeli aggression against our people in the Gaza Strip has confirmed once again the urgent and pressing need to end the Israeli occupation, and for our people to gain their freedom and independence,” Abbas said.
Calling Israel guilty of a “racist, colonial occupation,” Abbas said the Palestinians’ push in the U.N. was not “terrorism” but a “serious attempt to achieve peace” and that “the rope of patience is shortening.”
“We do not come here seeking to de-legitimize a state established here years ago, and that is Israel,” Abbas said. “[We come here to] affirm the legitimacy of a state that must now achieve its independence and that is Palestine.”
Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor responded that the only way to achieve peace is through direct negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah, not on the voting floor of the United Nations in New York. He said the resolution would make a negotiated settlement less likely.
“This resolution will not advance peace, this resolution will not change the situation on the ground,” Prosor told the General Assembly.
Prosor said he’s never heard Abbas use the phrase “two states for two people,” because “the Palestinian leadership has never accepted a Jewish state for the Jewish people,” garnering some applause.
Prosor said Gaza has become “a haven for terrorists and an ammunition dumping ground” for Israel’s enemies in Iran.
“Israel remains committed for peace but we will not establish another Iranian terror base in the heart of our country,” he said.
The United States had staunchly opposed the Palestinian effort. Speaking after the vote, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice called it an “unfortunate and counterproductive” move that “places further obstacles in the path to peace.”
“The backers in today’s resolution say they seek a functioning, independent Palestinian state,” Rice said. “So do we. But we have long been clear that the only way to establish such a Palestinian state and resolve all permanent status issues is through the crucial, if painful, direct negotiations between the parties.”
Rice said the U.S. would “oppose every effort that seeks to de-ligitimize Israel or undermine its security.”
This post has been updated.