In a historic session of the United Nations in New York Thursday, exactly 65 years after passing the Partition Plan for Palestine, the General Assembly voted by a huge majority to recognize Palestine within the 1967 borders as a non-member state with observer status in the organization. Some 138 countries voted in favor of the resolution, 41 abstained and 9 voted against: Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, U.S., Panama, The Marshall Islands, Palau, Nauru, and Micronesia.
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the resolution "unfortunate and counterproductive," explaining that "only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and Israelis achieve the peace that both deserve: two states for two people, with a sovereign, viable, independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel."
Following the vote, U.S. UN envoy Susan Rice said the resolution does not establish Palestine as state, that it prejudges the outcome of negotiations, and ignores questions of security.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas delivered a hard-hitting speech in which he was highly critical of Israel, drawing extensive applause from the floor.
"Palestine comes today to the General Assembly because it believes in peace and because its people, as proven in past days, are in desperate need of it," Abbas said.
The Palestinian Authority chairman said "The moment has arrived for the world to say clearly: Enough of aggression, settlements and occupation."
"The world is being asked today to undertake a significant step in the process of rectifying the unprecedented historical injustice inflicted on the Palestinian people since Al-Nakba of 1948."
"The General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the State of Palestine," Abbas said. He concluded his speech to a standing ovation.
Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, responded to Abbas' speech, saying that peace could only be achieved through negotiations, not via the UN route.
"For as long as President Abbas prefers symbolism over reality, any hope of peace will be out of reach. No decision by the UN can break the 4,000 year-old bond between the people of Israel and the land of Israel," Prosor said.
Those who vote in favor are undermining peace, he said. "The UN was founded to advance the cause of peace. Today the Palestinians are turning their back on peace. Don't let history record that today the UN helped them along on their march of folly."
Prosor said that Israel remains committed to peace, but that "we won't establish another Iranian terror base in heart of our country."
Responding to Abbas' speech, Prime Minister Netanyahu's office released a statement saying the world had watched a speech "full of dripping venom and false propaganda against the IDF and Israeli citizens. This is not how someone who wants peace speaks."
The statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office said that no Palestinian state would be established without guarantees for the security of Israel, and that the way to peace would be through negotiations.
After long weeks during which Israel had tried to scuttle the Palestinian move using intimidation and threats to bring down the Palestinian Authority and cancel the Oslo Accords, it continued Thursday the line it has taken in the past few days of trying to belittle the move and present it as meaningless.
A few hours before the vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a tour of the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem that the UN General Assembly decision to recognize the state of Palestine “will not change anything on the ground.”
Netanyahu attacked the international community and said that “It doesn’t matter how many hands will be raised against it, there is no force in the world that would cause me to compromise Israel’s security.”
Netanyahu said the decision will not advance the establishment of a Palestinian state, but rather delay it. “Peace can only be achieved through negotiations between the sides with no preconditions, and not through unilateral decisions at the UN. I suggest not to be impressed by the applause at the UN. I remember the applause Israel received in the hall when it decided to unilaterally leave Gaza. We received applause and took missiles. Israel left Gaza and Iran entered. Exactly the same thing happened when we left Lebanon. As prime minister I will not allow another Iranian terror base in Judea and Samaria – in the heart of the country – one kilometer from the center of Jerusalem.”
At this stage Israel’s reaction to the Palestinian move in the UN will probably be low-key. Israel is expected to impose limitations on senior PA officials and cancel their VIP cards that allow them free passage through Israel Defense Forces checkpoints in the West Bank, and will deduct debts of about NIS 1 billion that the PA owes various Israeli bodies, notably the Israel Electric Corporation. The deduction will come from confiscating the monthly tax revenues that Israel collects for the PA.
More stringent steps will be considered in the future in the event of further Palestinian moves such as turning to the International Criminal Court in The Hague or an attempt to be accepted into other UN agencies.
A senior official in Jerusalem said that Israel is not interested in carrying out immediate reactionary moves that would only serve to further focus international criticism of Israel, and not the Palestinians, who will be pressured after the UN move to renew negotiations with Israel without preconditions.