The United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution Thursday to upgrade the status of the Palestinians in the international body.
The 193-member assembly passed the resolution by a vote of 138-9, with 41 abstentions.
The Palestinians, represented through the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a non-governmental political and paramilitary organization, will now be recognized as a “non-member observer state.”
Immediately after the vote, a Palestinian flag was unfurled on the floor the General Assembly, the Associated Press reported.
In his speech, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the General Assembly that it was “being asked today to issue the birth certificate of Palestine.”
While short of full member status, the upgraded status will allow the Palestinians to join several UN agencies and treaties, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), where the Palestinians could bring criminal charges against Israel.
The Palestinians failed to gain full UN statehood status last year after the U.S. threatened to veto the initiative in the Security Council.
The U.S. and Israel were quick to condemn the vote.
“Today’s unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path peace,” American UN Ambassador Susan Rice said.
“Abbas’s speech proves once more, for anyone who needed more proof, that we are dealing with an enemy who has no desire or intention to make peace” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said.
Earlier in the day, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at the Brookings Institution, said the U.S. believes the resolution will "do nothing to advance the peace and the two-state solution we all want to see,” NBC News reported.
Jewish groups also spoke out against the vote.
“The United Nations General Assembly recklessly set back the chances for peace between Israelis and Palestinians today,” read a statement from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris said in a statement that UN members “rewarded Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for defiance, for refusing to engage in direct talks with Israel.”
Chairman and Richard Stone and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents said the UN vote “will leave no victors but certainly a primary loser, peace in the Middle East.”
“This maneuver’s sole purpose is to bypass direct negotiations with Israel with the attempt to achieve through the UNGA vote recognition that will, in fact, not change anything on the ground for the Palestinian people, but will dim the prospect for peace,” Stone and Hoenlein said in a statement.
Notably, the UK abstained from the vote after it failed to receive assurances that the Palestinians would immediately return to negotiations and wouldn’t pursue criminal charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court.
While the vote is a major political setback for the U.S. and Israel, many analysts believe that it is largely a symbolic, with only real Palestinian independence being achieved through negotiations. However, it could provide a boost for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose power and relevance within Palestinian politics has diminished at the expense of Hamas.
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Following the Thursday vote giving the Palestinaisn upgraded status at the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor, applauding the latter’s rebuttal speech at the General Assembly.
“You represented Israel’s truth. Your speech was a speech of facts, contrary to [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas’s poisonous address,” Netanyahu said.
Prosor said “Israel remains committed to peace,” and that he represented “a state built in the Jewish people’s ancient homeland, with its eternal capital Jerusalem as its beating heart.”
“As for the rights of Jewish people in this land, I have a simple message for those people gathered in the General Assembly today: No decision by the U.N. can break the 4,000-year-old bond between the people of Israel and the land of Israel,” Prosor said. “The people of Israel wait for a Palestinian leader who is willing to follow in the path of President Sadat. The world waits for President Abbas to speak the truth that peace can only be achieved through negotiations by recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. It waits for him to tell them that peace must also address Israel’s security needs and end the conflict once and for all. For as long as President Abbas prefers symbolism over reality, as long as he prefers to travel to New York for UN resolutions, rather than travel to Jerusalem for genuine dialogue, any hope of peace will be out of reach.”
Prosor criticized Abbas for “ignoring history.”
“The truth is that 65 years ago today, the United Nations voted to partition the British Mandate into two states: a Jewish state, and an Arab state,” he said.
“Two states for two peoples. Israel accepted this plan. The Palestinians and Arab nations around us rejected it and launched a war of annihilation to throw the ‘Jews into the sea.’”