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UN vote upgrades Palestine's status

Updated: 2012-12-01 07:50
By Agencies in Beijing, United Nations ( China Daily)

UN vote upgrades Palestine's status

Palestinians celebrate in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Friday after the UN General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a non-member state, despite fierce opposition by Israel and the United States. Abbas Momani / Agence France-Presse

State's diplomatic 'birth certificate' provokes US, Israeli condemnation

The UN General Assembly on Thursday overwhelmingly voted to make Palestine a non-member state, inflicting a major diplomatic defeat on the United States and Israel.

The victory for President Mahmoud Abbas triggered scenes of joy in the occupied West Bank, where thousands celebrated with bursts of gunfire and cheers in the city of Ramallah.

Abbas claimed what he called a UN "birth certificate" for a Palestinian state and got the backing of 138 countries in the 193-member assembly. Nine voted against, including Israel, the US, Canada, the Marshall Islands and Panama. Five did not participate and 41 abstained, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and the Netherlands.

Palestine's successful bid to be recognized as a UN non-member observer state is "a positive step" on the road to establishing itself as an independent state, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Friday.

Hong Lei made the remarks in a news release on Friday morning, hours after the vote.

"This shows that the Palestinian people's just cause of restoring their lawful national rights has gotten more extensive support from the international community," said Hong.

He said China voted in favor of the draft resolution along with many other UN member states.

China has always advocated that the establishment of Palestine as an independent state is the legitimate right of the Palestinian people, said Hong, adding that this is the basis and prerequisite for realizing the peaceful coexistence of Palestine and Israel.

He said China will continue to make positive and constructive efforts toward the comprehensive and fair settlement of the Palestinian issue.

A Palestinian flag was unfurled in the General Assembly as the victory was pronounced.

The vote lifts the Palestinian Authority from an observer entity to a "non-member observer state" on a par with the Vatican.

Palestine has no vote on the General Assembly but is able to join UN agencies and potentially the International Criminal Court, where it could ask for an investigation of Israeli actions.

The Palestinian leadership says it wants to use the vote as a launchpad for renewed direct talks with Israel, which have been frozen for more than two years.

"Tomorrow we begin the real war," Abbas said at a celebration reception. "We have a long road and difficult road ahead of us. I don't want to spoil our victory tonight but the road ahead is still difficult."

US, Israeli warnings

The US and Israel immediately condemned the vote, which US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called "unfortunate and counterproductive".

US Ambassador Susan Rice sternly told the General Assembly that the resolution would be "an obstacle to peace" because it would not lead to a return to direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

"(Friday's) grand pronouncements will soon fade. 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," she said.

The United States blocked a Palestinian application for full UN membership - made by Abbas in September 2011 - at the UN Security Council.

Israeli UN Ambassador Ron Prosor said recognizing Palestine "will place further obstacles and preconditions to negotiations and peace" and could even lead to increased violence.

Abbas did not make any reference to the possibility of joining the International Criminal Court - a major worry for Israel, which fears a possible investigation.

But the Palestinian leader said: "We will act responsibly and positively in our next steps, and we will work to strengthen cooperation with the countries and peoples of the world for the sake of a just peace."

The vote could give a boost to Abbas, who faces a mounting challenge from Hamas after the Israeli offensive on Gaza, diplomats said.

Hamas welcomed the vote, calling it a victory. "This is a new victory on the road to the liberation of Palestine and return and we congratulate ourselves," senior Hamas official Ahmed Yussef said.

But Britain and Germany, which abstained, believe the Palestinians should have waited until after US President Barack Obama installed his new administration and Israel held elections before making its UN bid.

France voted in favor of the resolution. "The Palestinian step comes at a difficult moment and there could be heavy repercussions," said French Ambassador Gerard Araud.

France called on both sides to respond through the resumption of talks "and not through reprisals which will only play the game of the extremists," he added.

The Palestinians still face an uncertain future on the diplomatic stage. Despite their greater access to the UN system, there are divided opinions over whether they will be able to automatically join the ICC.

Palestinian envoys have said Abbas will not rush to join the court but could use it as leverage if Israel does not change its policies on settlements and other matters.

The Palestinian Authority and UN agencies that accept Palestinian participation could also lose hundreds of millions of dollars in financing because of the vote.

Washington has warned Abbas he risks losing around $200 million in aid, which is blocked in the US Congress.