After U.N. Vote, Excitement and Worry over Palestinians' Next Move ; Palestinians' Victory Bolsters Abbas and Offers Basis for Legal Challenges

By Ethan Bronner; Christine Hauser | International Herald Tribune, December 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

After U.N. Vote, Excitement and Worry over Palestinians' Next Move ; Palestinians' Victory Bolsters Abbas and Offers Basis for Legal Challenges


Ethan Bronner; Christine Hauser, International Herald Tribune


The overwhelming vote to upgrade Palestine to a nonmember observer state of the United Nations was a triumph for Palestinian diplomacy and allows it to wage legal challenges.

The overwhelming vote in the General Assembly this week to upgrade Palestine to a nonmember observer state was a triumph for Palestinian diplomacy and a sharp rebuke to the United States and Israel. But it did little to bring either the Palestinians or the Israelis closer to the goal they claim to seek: two states living side by side in peace.

That fact was underscored by Israel's steps toward building fresh housing in a hotly contested area of East Jerusalem even as the vote took place at the United Nations on Thursday night.

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. It also helped bolster a Palestinian Authority that was left badly weakened by the recent conflict in Gaza.

Coming so soon after the Gaza fighting, the vote put the Palestinians again -- if briefly, perhaps -- at the center of international discussion after two years of Arab uprisings that have marginalized the Palestinian cause.

But the Palestinians themselves remain deeply divided between the Palestinian Authority, run by Mahmoud Abbas who governs the West Bank, and Hamas, the militant group that holds sway in Gaza.

Even among the determined crowd of 2,000 that celebrated the vote in Ramallah, in the West Bank, there was an underlying sense of concerned resignation. "I hope this is good," said Munir Shafie, 36, an electrical engineer. "But how are we going to benefit?"

The General Assembly vote -- 138 countries in favor, 9 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 General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the state of Palestine," Mr. Abbas said, speaking at the United Nations. He condemned what he called Israeli racism and colonialism. His remarks seemed aimed in part at Israel and in part at Hamas. Both 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 said. "Someone who wants peace does not talk in such a manner."

While Hamas had officially backed the U.N. bid of Mr. 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 Hamas spokesman in Gaza. "Getting our membership in the U.N. bodies is our natural right, but without giving up any inch of Palestine's soil."

The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, spoke after Mr. Abbas and said he was concerned that the Palestinian Authority had failed to recognize Israel for what it is. …

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