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U.N. Votes To Give Palestinians 'Non-Member Observer State' Status

Palestinians in Ramallah celebrated in advance of the U.N. vote.
Uriel Sinai
Getty Images
Palestinians in Ramallah celebrated in advance of the U.N. vote.

The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a resolution upgrading Palestine to a "non-member observer state," from a "non-member observer entity."

Before the vote and in front of the assembly, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said this was the body's "last chance to save the two-state solution."

He said despite all the violence and Israeli "aggressions" and its "occupation," Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority have insisted on harmony and have looked at the "U.N. as a beacon of hope."

"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 a state that must now achieve its independence and that is Palestine," Abbas said.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly.
Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly.

"The moment has come for the world to say clearly: enough of aggression, enough with settlements and occupation," Abbas said.

Exactly 65 years after the General Assembly convened at Lake Success, N.Y., voted to divide Palestine between a Jewish state and an Arab one, the same body voted — 138-9, with 41 abstentions — in favor of recognizing the State of Palestine.

The United States and Israel, which suffered a stinging diplomatic setback, voted against the measure, while France and Spain voted in favor.

As Mark reported earlier, this vote gives Palestinians the same status as the Vatican, but perhaps more importantly, it gives Palestinians access to other U.N. bodies like the International Criminal Court, where Palestinians could launch complaints against Israel.

The United States has repeatedly said that this was not the right way toward a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"This resolution is not going to take [Palestinians] closer to statehood," Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said in a briefing yesterday. "It does nothing to get them closer to statehood, and it may actually make the environment more difficult."

The resolution reaffirms the "the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including the right to their independent State of Palestine," and also declares the Palestine Liberation Organization the "representative of the Palestinian people."

The PLO and its leader, Abbas, control the West Bank, but not the Gaza Strip, which is under the control of Hamas. As The New York Times explains it, the credibility of Abbas and his Palestinian Authority has suffered, especially after the recent eight-day Israeli assault on Gaza.

"That shift in sentiment is one reason that some Western countries give for backing the United Nations resolution, to strengthen Mr. Abbas and his more moderate colleagues in their contest with Hamas," the Times explained.

Israel, which has had a relationship with Abbas but does not talk to Hamas directly, said it would take action against the Palestinian Authority in response to this vote.

Israel's UN Ambassador Ron Prosor addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday.
Richard Drew / AP
Israel's UN Ambassador Ron Prosor addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday.

"I can only say that our response will be proportionate to what is ultimately a fundamental violation by the Palestinians of signed agreements," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told NPR's Philip Reeves. "I mean they committed to solving all outstanding issues through negotiations. And by going to the U.N., they are doing the opposite."

Nuland said yesterday that the Obama administration was trying to get Congress to release money reserved for the Palestinian Authority, but the resolution doesn't "make it any easier."

The Israeli ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prosor, said in a speech before the General Assembly that the resolution "raises expectations that cannot be met."

Israel wants peace, he said, while Palestinians are "avoiding it." This resolution, he said, meant the Palestinians were "turning their backs on peace."

"No decision of the U.N. can break the 4,000-year bond between the people of Israel and the land of Israel," Prosor said.

As the vote took place, the celebrations that started earlier today in Ramallah continued into the early morning.

Update at 5:10 p.m. ET. 'Unfortunate And Counterproductive':

Shortly after the vote, the United States ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, said this resolution was "unfortunate and counterproductive."

"Progress toward a lasting peace cannot be made by pressing a green button," Rice said.

She also made clear that the resolution "does not establish a Palestinian state."

The State Department has posted full text of her speech.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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