Palestinians are jubilant after winning increased recognition from the United Nations on Thursday. Palestine was upgraded from an “entity” to a “nonmember observer state,” an action overwhelmingly supported by 138 countries.
The U.S., Israel and Canada were the only major countries that voted against the recognition of the Palestinian state, joined by the Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Panama. Britain, Germany and Australia were among the 41 countries that abstained from voting.
The new status will open up the possibility for Palestine to challenge Israel in international legal forums, such as the International Criminal Court, to hold Israel more accountable for its actions. Just last week, Israel launched a brutal week-long attack against Hamas, which killed 161 people, almost half were civilians.
The vote seems to reflect building dissatisfaction with Israel’s treatment of Palestine and its continued Jewish settlement of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Several of Israel’s allies voted in support of Palestine, notably France and Italy, with Australia reaching a dramatic decision to abstain two days prior.
U.N. support of Palestine may also signal an international endorsement for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ key position: a return to the pre-1967 borders that would give Palestine control of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, a reshuffling that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wholeheartedly opposes.
Ahead of the U.N. vote, Abbas focused part of his speech on directing harsh words to Netanyahu, accusing Israelis of “colonial occupation,” institutionalized racism, and “war crimes.” His remarks drew extensive applause from the U.N. floor. Abbas also said Palestine wants peace and stressed that the present moment is the “last chance” to save the two-state solution. At the conclusion of his speech, Abbas received a standing ovation.
Netanyahu bit back by saying Abbas gave a “venomous speech” full of “mendacious propaganda.”
The U.S. also rebuked the U.N.’s overwhelming support of Palestine. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.N.’s recognition of the Palestinian state was “unfortunate and counterproductive.”
Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the U.N. and a candidate for Secretary of State, also tried to burst Palestinian balloons by saying:
“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.”
A group of U.S. senators responded to the U.N. vote by saying they will kick the Palestinian Liberation Organization out of Washington and introduce legislation to cut off foreign aid to Palestine if it seeks the help of the International Criminal Court or takes other actions against Israel.
How the U.N. recognition will affect the short-term peace process remains to be seen. Abbas believes U.N. backing will help him gain leverage over Israel in negotiations. Complicating the matter is the fact that Abbas holds little sway in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip after being ejected in 2007.
Still, the U.N. status upgrade adds to the clout Palestine has already earned worldwide; it is currently recognized by 132 countries, with 80 embassies and 40 representative offices around the world.
Yesterday’s vote was taken on the 65th anniversary of the 1947 vote to divide Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab.
Watch the video of Abbas’ full speech at the U.N. on Thursday: