Palestine overwhelmingly won a historical UN General Assembly vote which will upgrade its status to non-member observer state at the world body, despite intense opposition from the US and Israel.
India was among the 138 nations in the 193-member body that voted in favour while nine countries opposed the resolution that sought upgrading the status of Palestinian Authority from ‘entity’ to ‘non-member observer state.
Forty-one countries abstained from the voting which took place on Thursday.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said “an important vote” has taken place in the General Assembly. “Today’s vote underscores the urgency of a resumption of meaningful negotiations. 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,” Mr. Ban said in his remarks after the votes were cast.
The symbolic vote signified the huge international backing for Palestine and came as a stinging defeat for Israel and the US.
The vote could enable Palestine to access bodies like the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which prosecutes people for genocide, war crimes and major human rights violations. Some nations like the UK have said Palestine could use access to the ICC to complain about Israel.
In his address to the General Assembly before the vote, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the vote will “issue a birth certificate of the reality of the state of Palestine”.
“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 institutionalises the plague of racism and entrenches hatred and incitement,” Mr. Abbas said.
“The moment has arrived for the world to say clearly: enough of aggression, settlements and occupation,” he said.
“We did not come here seeking to delegitimise 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,” Mr. Abbas told the Assembly before the vote.
The Palestinian Authority President said with the vote the world was being asked to undertake a significant step in the process of rectifying the “unprecedented historical injustice” inflicted on the Palestinian people since 1948.
“Your support for our endeavour today,” he said, “will send a promising message - to millions of Palestinians on the land of Palestine, in the refugee camps both in the homeland and the Diaspora, and to the prisoners struggling for freedom in Israel’s prisons - that justice is possible and that there is a reason to be hopeful and that the peoples of the world do not accept the continuation of the occupation.”
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor said his delegation could not accept the resolution “because this resolution is so one-sided, it doesn’t advance peace, it pushes it backwards,” he stated, adding that peace could only be achieved through negotiations.
Mr. Prosor said the resolution would do nothing to advance the peace process.
“Today the Palestinians are turning their back on peace,” he said. “Don’t let history record that today the UN helped them along on their march of folly.”
“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,” he added. “There are no shortcuts. No quick fixes. No instant solutions.”
The Israelis and Palestinians have yet to resume direct negotiations since talks stalled in September 2010, after Israel refused to extend its freeze on settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory.
In the resolution, the Assembly also voiced the hope that the Security Council will “consider favourably” the application submitted in September 2011 by Palestine for full UN membership.
The vote comes on the same day that the UN observed the annual International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
Established in 1977, the Day marks the date in 1947 when the Assembly adopted a resolution partitioning then-mandated Palestine into two States, one Jewish and one Arab.