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Palestine Wins Status of State in Vote by U.N. Assembly

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September 24, 2011 – Palestinians gather in Ramallah to watch live footage of Mahmud Abbas’ speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York

(New York Times) UNITED NATIONS — More than 130 countries voted on Thursday to grant Palestine the upgraded status of nonmember observer state in the United Nations, a stinging defeat for Israel and the United States and a boost for President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, who was weakened by the recent eight days of fighting in Gaza.

The new ranking could make it easier for the Palestinians to pursue Israel in international legal forums, but it remained unclear what effect it would have on attaining what both sides say they want — a two-state solution.

Still, the vote offered a showcase for an extraordinary international lineup of support for the Palestinians and constituted a deeply symbolic achievement for their cause, made even weightier by arriving on the 65th anniversary of the General Assembly vote that divided the former British Mandate of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab — a vote that Israel considers the international seal of approval for its birth.

The tally, in which 138 members voted yes, 9 voted no and 41 abstained, took place after a speech by Mr. Abbas to the General Assembly, in which he called the moment a “last chance” to save the two-state solution amid a narrowing window of opportunity.

“The General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the state of Palestine,” he said before the vote.

But in the run-up to the vote, he and Ron Prosor, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, blamed the other side for not doing enough to pursue peace.

”We have not heard one word from any Israeli official expressing any sincere concern to save the peace process,” Mr. Abbas said.

“On the contrary, 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 institutionalizes the plague of racism and entrenches hatred and incitement.”

“The moment has arrived for the world to say clearly: enough of aggression, settlements and occupation,” he said.

Mr. Prosor, speaking after Mr. Abbas but before the vote was taken, said the United Nations resolution would do nothing to advance the process.

“Today the Palestinians are turning their back on peace,” he said. “Don’t let history record that today the U.N. helped them along on their march of folly.”

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[divider][/divider][divider][/divider][/onehalf]As expected, the vote won backing from a number of European countries, and was a rebuff to intense American and Israeli diplomacy. In an indication of the bitterness of the blow to the Israelis, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement calling Mr. Abbas’s speech “defamatory and venomous” that was “full of mendacious propaganda against the IDF and the citizens of Israel.”

“Someone who wants peace does not talk in such a manner,” the statement continued.

Among the countries that had forecast their yes votes were France, Spain and Switzerland. Others, like Germany, had said they would abstain, and a few countries joined Israel and the United States in voting no.

Mr. Prosor reiterated that Israel also favors a two-state resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, but one reached through negotiations, with some parts of the occupied territories remaining in Israeli hands, with a strong focus on security concerns and with a formal recognition by the Palestinians of Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state.

“That’s right. Two states for two peoples,” Mr. Prosor said. “In fact, President Abbas, I did not hear you use the phrase ‘two states for two peoples’ this afternoon. In fact, I have never heard you say the phrase ‘two states for two peoples.’ Because the Palestinian leadership has never recognized that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

The Israelis also say that the fact that Mr. Abbas is not welcome in the Gaza Strip, 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.

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