The United Nations General Assembly voted on Thursday to upgrade Palestine's current "permanent observer" status at the world body to that of a "non-member observer state," ignoring firm opposition from the United States and Israel.
The resolution on the enhanced UN status of Palestine was adopted in a 138 to 9 vote with 41 abstentions in the 193-member UN General Assembly. Incidentally, the measure required only a simple majority at the General Assembly, where the US has no veto power. The vote was considered a mere formality, as most of the 193 UN Member-States had expressed their support for the Palestinian move.
Apart from the US and Israel, the nations that voted against the resolution included Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands and Panama. Britain and Germany were among the countries that abstained from voting.
Ahead of the vote, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestine Authority in the West Bank, told the Assembly that it was being called on to undertake a significant step in the process of rectifying the "unprecedented historical injustice" inflicted on the Palestinian people since 1948.
"We did not come here seeking to delegitimize a State established years ago, and that is Israel; rather we came to affirm the legitimacy of the State that must now achieve its independence, and that is Palestine," he said.
"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. The General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the State of Palestine," Abbas said, stressing that the vote is "the last chance to save the two state solution."
Nevertheless, Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, said his country could not accept the resolution as it was "so one-sided, it doesn't advance peace, it pushes it backwards," he stated, adding that peace could only be achieved through negotiations.
"There's only one route to Palestinian statehood and that route does not run through this chamber in New York. That route runs through direct negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah that will lead to a secure and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. There are no shortcuts. No quick fixes. No instant solutions," he added.
Speaking after the vote, Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN, urged both Israel and the Palestinians to resume their peace negotiations aimed at ending the decades-long conflict between the two sides. Separately, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the vote as an "unfortunate and counter-productive" development that puts more obstacles on the path to peace.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the move by the Palestinians to seek enhanced UN status, noting that the peace accords under which the Palestinian Authority was established states clearly that a Palestinian state should emerge only as a result of bilateral negotiations.
"By going to the UN, the Palestinians have violated the agreements with Israel and Israel will act accordingly," Netanyahu's office said in a statement posted on Twitter.
Nonetheless, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed that the vote underscored the urgency of resuming "meaningful negotiations," and called on all members of the international community to intensify their efforts for persuading the Palestinians and Israelis to return to the negotiating table.
"We must give new impetus to our collective efforts to ensure that an independent, sovereign, democratic, contiguous and viable State of Palestine lives side by side with a secure State of Israel. I urge the parties to renew their commitment to a negotiated peace," Ban Ki-moon said.
Notably, the elevated status of a "non-member observer state" allows the Palestinians to participate in debates at the U.N. But it does not provide an automatic entry into UN agencies or provide any guarantees in that regard. However, the outcome of Thursday's vote amounts to an implicit recognition of the Palestinian statehood.
Although the PA made a formal request with the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) in September 2011 seeking full membership for a Palestine State with pre-1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital, the bid failed to get enough votes in the 15-member Council and was subsequently dropped. However, Palestine was later admitted as a member-state to the UNESCO despite objections from Israel and the U.S.
Palestinians believe that the non-member observer state status would eventually lead to Palestine's recognition as a UN member-state. Such a development would allow them to drag Israel to the International Criminal Court and other international forums over issues relating to the 2008 invasion of the Gaza Strip as well as building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In April, the ICC had rejected a Palestinian bid to open an investigation into cases relating to the 2008 Gaza war, saying that the request could not be considered as Palestine was not a Member-State of the UN. More than 1,400 people were killed in the three-week offensive, which was finally halted by separate unilateral cease-fire declarations by Israel and Hamas, the radical Islamist group that controls Gaza Strip.
Currently, the US-mediated peace talks are deadlocked over Israel's refusal to extend a construction freeze in the West Bank after its expiry on September 26, 2010. Israel has since approved several plans to build new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, ignoring strong objections from the international community. Palestinians insist they will return to direct peace talks only if Israel stops settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israel has settled about 500,000 Jews in more than 100 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the 1967 Six-Day War. However, its annexation of the captured area is not recognized by the international community, which considers building settlements in the occupied land as illegal.
A previously agreed 2003 peace plan mediated by the Middle East Quartet, comprising the UN, European Union, the United States and Russia, requires Israel to dismantle settlement outposts erected since 2001 and freeze all settlement activities, while Palestinians are required to halt all violence against Israel. It is ultimately expected to lead to an independent Palestinian State alongside Israel with East Jerusalem as its capital.
by RTT Staff Writer
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