The United Nations voted Thursday to grant Palestinians ‘non member’ observer status, a move that implicitly recognizes a sovereign Palestinian state.
The vote, held in the General Assembly, was 138-9 in favor, with 41 abstentions.
The upgrade of U.N. observer status from “entity” to “non-member state”, like that of the Vatican, recognizes the sovereignty of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, lands that Israel captured during the 1967 War, as “Palestine.”
A surprising number of European nations voted “yes” on the resolution, which was co-sponsored by Icelandic Minister for Foreign Affairs Össur Skarphéðinsson. France, Spain, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland voted in favor, while Germany, citing a “special responsibility” to Israel, abstained.
“It is a balanced and carefully considered decision,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle explained. “On the one hand we see the Palestinians’ justified desire for their own state, but on the other hand we recognize our special responsibility to Israel, and for peaceful and stable development in the region.”
Great Britain, which only a few days before the vote led an effort to get Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to withdraw its resolution, also abstained after a number of guarantees to restart the peace negotiations without any preconditions – as well as a Palestinian promise not to petition the International Criminal Court in The Hague against Israel – could not be secured.
Australia was among the abstentions, but only after a caucus revolt forced Prime Minister Julia Gillard to abandon plans to side with Israel and the US.
In the end, the only nations joining the United States and Israel in voting “no” were Canada, the Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Panama.
Before the vote, President Abbas urged the world body to “issue a birth certificate of the reality of the State of Palestine.” Ballots were cast on the on the 65th anniversary of the U.N. resolution that divided 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.
Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Ron Prosor, warned the General Assembly that “the Palestinians are turning their backs on peace” and that the U.N. can’t break the 4,000-year-old bond between the people of Israel and the land of Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remained defiant after the vote.
“No matter how many hands are raised [at the UN], there is no power in the world that can disconnect the Jewish people from the land of Israel,” Netanyahu concluded.
Both U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice used the same exact language to denounce the vote as “plac[ing] further obstacles in the path to peace.”
“This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state,” Rice said, echoing an earlier speech by the ambassador to Israel. “Today’s vote should not be misconstrued by any as constituting eligibility for UN membership.”
Rice said that “only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and the Israelis achieve the peace that both deserve.”