The UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to recognize a Palestinian ‘state’ as a non-member observer to the United Nations - a move that was strongly opposed by Israel and the US. The assembly voted 138 in favor and nine against, with 41 nations abstaining. Among the latter many countries such as Germany, Italy and Poland that normally support Israel at the UN. Apart from Israel, only Canada, the Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Panama and the United States vote against the motion.
The vote was taken on the 65th anniversary of the approval by the General Assembly of the UN Partition Plan which called for the establishment of a Jewish and an Arab state in Mandatory Palestine.
In his speech, PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas claimed this was the "last chance to save the two-state solution" with Israel.
Ron Prosor, Israel's UN envoy, who spoke directly after Abbas. He said the bid pushed the peace process "backwards", and added that it would in fact "place further obstacles and preconditions to negotiations and peace."
The US called the Palestinian move was "unfortunate".
As non-member observer state the Palestinians can now take part in UN debates and potentially join UN bodies like the International Criminal Court.
Thousands of Palestinians celebrated on the streets of Ramallah and other West Bank cities after the result was announced.
World Jewish Congress criticizes vote
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder reacted with strong criticism to the vote, saying it “does nothing to lead to a genuine and lasting peace in the Middle East, between the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples.”
Instead, Lauder said, “it undermines this much-desired goal by contradicting its own UN resolutions, those that mandate resolving this conflict through direct negotiations between the parties. The designation of a Palestinian non-member observer state creates an illusion that will ultimately deeply disappoint the Palestinian people by raising unrealistic expectations."
The WJC president added: "The General Assembly cannot declare an entity a state, nor can it solve the issues between the parties. It cannot substitute for a directly negotiated peace agreement…Today's move violates the peace agreements achieved so far, offering discouragement, not hope." The WJC president called upon Abbas “to accept the repeated invitation of the Israeli government to return to the peace table, if he is truly interested in peace."
Abbas under fire for his UN speech
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized Abbas’ speech to the UN: "The world watched a defamatory and venomous speech that was full of mendacious propaganda against the IDF and the citizens of Israel. Someone who wants peace does not talk in such a manner," Netanyahu said in a statement.
Abbas had accused Israel of being a racist occupation regime and of carrying out ethnic cleansing. The Palestinian leader told the UN: "We have heard and you too have heard specifically over the past months the incessant flood of Israeli threats in response to our peaceful, political and diplomatic endeavor for Palestine to acquire non-member observer state in the United Nations. And, you have surely witnessed how some of these threats have been carried out in a barbaric and horrific manner just days ago in the Gaza Strip.
“We have not heard one word from any Israeli official expressing any sincere concern to save the peace process. On the contrary, our people have witnessed, and continue to witness, an unprecedented intensification of military assaults, the blockade, settlement activities and ethnic cleansing, particularly in occupied east Jerusalem, and mass arrests, attacks by settlers and other practices by which this Israeli occupation is becoming synonymous with an apartheid system of colonial occupation, which institutionalizes the plague of racism and entrenches hatred and incitement."
Abbas also made it clear that “We will accept no less than the independence of the State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on all the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967.”