The occasion was marked by the unfurling of a large Palestinian flag on the floor of the General Assembly behind the Palestinian delegation. Meanwhile, raucous celebrations broke out in cities, towns and villages throughout the occupied Palestinian West Bank as well as in Gaza, which is still reeling from Operation Pillar of Defense, an Israeli bombing campaign that killed more than 160 people, including many innocent civilians, in response to Hamas rocket attacks against Israel. Revelers waved Palestinian flags and chanted “God is great!”
Palestine now gains access to UN agencies and international organizations, notably the International Criminal Court (ICC), which could provide the Palestinians with the opportunity to sue Israel for war crimes and crimes against humanity associated with the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and the physical and economic blockade of Gaza. The UN has previously passed scores of resolutions concerning Israeli conduct in the occupied territories and against its neighbors.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the resolution “meaningless” and condemned a pre-vote speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as “defamatory and venomous” and “full of mendacious propaganda.”
“UNGA resolutions are not worth the paper they are written on,” Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Danny Ayalon defiantly told Israel Radio.
The United States was also quick to slam the historic vote.
“Today’s unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path of peace,” Susan Rice, Washington’s embattled UN ambassador said, echoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who also called the vote “unfortunate” and “counterproductive.”
Seven other UN member states joined Israel and the US in voting against recognition of Palestinian statehood. These were: Canada, the Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Panama.
Notable nations among the 41 abstentions included: Australia, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, South Korea and the United Kingdom.
The November 29 vote came on the same day that the fledgling United Nations voted to recognize a Jewish state in Palestine in 1947. Great Britain, which had ruled Palestine from the end of World War I until a campaign of Jewish terrorism drove them to withdraw in the summer of 1947, handed control of the territory over to the UN, which then partitioned it without the approval of the indigenous Arab population. Zionists– Europeans who emigrated to Palestine with the goal of establishing a Jewish homeland– exalted. Although Jews controlled just 5 percent of Palestine’s land area and comprised just 33 percent of its population, they were awarded 55 percent of Palestine’s territory.
The following year, Israel declared its independence, an event accompanied by an ethnic cleansing campaign known among Arabs as the Nakba, or catastrophe, and an invasion of the new Jewish state by five Arab nations. Some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were expelled from their homes, often by force and sometimes by massacre, never to return. Today, they and their descendants number around four million. Today, Israel controls nearly all of Palestine. The West Bank has been occupied since 1967, despite dozens of UN resolutions condemning Israeli actions, and the Jewish state maintains a physical and economic stranglehold on the Gaza strip. Palestinian attempts to resist Israeli occupation and oppression, often by resorting to terrorism, are usually met by overwhelming Israeli military force.
Despite this history, or perhaps because of it, Israel fought an intense yet ultimately unsuccessful diplomatic battle to quash Palestine’s bid for UN state recognition. But Thursday’s vote does not mean that Palestine is by any means independent. The vote does, however, affirm that the global community overwhelmingly supports Palestine’s statehood aspirations. It could also bolster Abbas’ position in future peace talks with Israel and lend credibility to his government, whose power has been eroded in recent years as rival Hamas has gained traction.