Palestinian state makes inroads

Palestinians celebrated in Ramallah after the General Assembly upgraded Palestine to a nonmember observer state.
Palestinians celebrated in Ramallah after the General Assembly upgraded Palestine to a nonmember observer state.

UNITED NATIONS — More than 130 countries voted Thursday to upgrade Palestine to a nonmember observer state of the United Nations, a triumph for Palestinian diplomacy and a sharp rebuke to the United States and Israel.

But the vote, at least for now, did little to bring either the ­Palestinians or the Israelis closer to the goal they claim to seek: two states living side by side, or increased Palestinian unity. ­Israel and the militant group Hamas both responded critically to the day’s events, though for different reasons. The new status will give the Palestinians more tools to challenge Israel in international legal forums for its occupation activities in the West Bank, including settlement-building, and it helped bolster the Palestinian Authority, weakened after eight days of battle between its rival Hamas and Israel.

But even as a small but determined crowd of 2,000 celebrated in central Ramallah in the West Bank, waving flags and dancing, there was an underlying sense of concerned resignation.


‘‘I hope this is good,’’ said Munir Shafie, 36, an electrical engineer who was there. ‘‘But how are we going to benefit?’’

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Still, the General Assembly vote — 138 countries in favor, nine opposed, and 41 abstaining — showed impressive backing for the Palestinians at a difficult time. It was taken on the 65th anniversary of the vote to divide the former British mandate of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one ­Arab, a vote Israel considers the international seal of approval for its birth.

The past two years of Arab uprisings have marginalized the Palestinian cause to some extent as nations that focused their political aspirations on the Palestinian struggle have turned inward. The vote Thursday, coming so soon after the Gaza fighting, put the Palestinians again — if briefly, perhaps — at the center of international discussion.

‘‘The question is, where do we go from here and what does it mean?’’ Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, who was in New York for the vote, said in an interview. ‘‘The sooner the tough rhetoric of this can subside and the more this is viewed as a logical consequence of many years of failure to move the process forward, the better.’’

He said nothing would change without deep US involve­ment.


President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, speaking to the assembly’s member nations, said, ‘‘The General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the state of Palestine,’’ and he condemned what he called Israeli racism and colonialism.

His remarks seemed aimed in part at Israel and in part at Hamas. But both quickly ­attacked him for the parts they found offensive.

‘‘The world watched a defamatory and venomous speech that was full of mendacious propaganda against the Israel Defense Forces and the citizens of Israel,’’ Prime Minister ­Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel responded. ‘‘Someone who wants peace does not talk in such a manner.’’

While Hamas had officially backed the UN bid of Abbas, it quickly criticized his speech because the group does not recognize Israel.

‘‘We do not recognize Israel, nor the partition of Palestine, and Israel has no right in Palestine,’’ said Salah al-Bardaweel, a spokesman for Hamas . ‘‘Getting our membership in the UN bodies is our natural right, but without giving up any inch of Palestine’s soil.’’


Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, spoke after ­Abbas and said he was concerned that the Palestinian ­Authority failed to recognize ­Israel for what it is.

‘‘Three months ago, Israel’s prime minister stood in this very hall and extended his hand in peace to President Abbas,’’ Prosor said. ‘‘He reiterated that his goal was to create a solution of two states for two peoples, where a demilitarized Palestinian state will recognize Israel as a Jewish state.’’

The Israelis also say that the fact that Abbas is not welcome in Gaza, the Palestinian coastal enclave run by Hamas, from which he was ejected five years ago, shows that there is no viable Palestinian leadership living up to its obligations now.

The vote won backing from a number of European countries and was a rebuff to intense US and Israeli diplomacy. France, Spain, Italy, and ­Switzerland all voted yes. ­Britain and Germany abstained. Apart from Canada, no major country joined the United States and Israel in voting no.

Susan E. Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, was dismissive of the entire exercise. ‘‘Today’s grand pronouncements will soon fade,’’ she said. ‘‘And 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 major concern for the Americans is that Palestinians may use their new status to try to join the International Criminal Court. That prospect particularly worries the Israelis, who fear that the Palestinians may press for an investigation of their practices in the occupied territories widely viewed as violations of international law.