The “no” votes came from the United States, Israel, Canada, the Czech Republic, Panama, Palau, Nauru, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. One hundred and thirty-eight countries voted in favor, while 41 abstained.
During the debate several speakers characterized the step as paving the way for Palestinian independence, although U.S. ambassador Susan Rice in remarks after the vote advised a reality check.
“Progress toward a just and lasting two-state solution cannot be made by pressing a green voting button here in this hall. Nor does passing any resolution create a state where none indeed exists or change the reality on the ground,” she said.
“For this reason, today’s vote should not be misconstrued by any as constituting eligibility for U.N. membership. It does not. This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state.”
In his speech ahead of the vote, Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor noted that it was coming exactly 65 years after the UNGA voted to divide the former British mandate of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab.
Jewish leaders accepted the “partition plan” and declared independence the following spring. The Arabs rejected it, and five Arab armies attacked the new state in what the head of the Arab League described as “a war of annihilation.”
“In submitting this resolution, the Palestinian leadership is once again making the wrong choice,” Prosor told the gathering. “Sixty-five years ago the Palestinians could have chosen to live side-by-side with the Jewish state of Israel. Sixty-five years ago they could have chosen to accept the solution of two states for two peoples. They rejected it then, and they are rejecting it again today.”
Addressing Abbas, Prosor observed that in his speech several minutes earlier, the P.A. leader had not used the phrase “two states for two peoples.”
“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,” he said.
In his address, Abbas accused Israel of pursuing policies designed to throw the peace process “into the intensive care unit.”
He suggested that Israel’s recent military operation against Hamas in Gaza – which Israel says it launched in response to rocket attacks against southern Israeli population centers – was a tactic aimed at pressurizing the P.A. to abandon its U.N. bid.
“We have heard, and you too have heard specifically over the past months the incessant flood of Israeli threats in response to our peaceful, political and diplomatic endeavor for Palestine to acquire non-member observer state in the United Nations,” he told the UNGA.
“And, you have surely witnessed how some of these threats have been carried out in a barbaric and horrific manner, just days ago in the Gaza Strip.”
The Gaza conflict, Abbas said, was a “painful reminder to the world that this racist colonial occupation is making the two-state solution and the prospect for realizing peace a very difficult choice, if not possible.”
The Obama administration’s attempts to dissuade Abbas from going ahead with the status upgrade bid included personal appeals by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Ramallah last week, and by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns at a meeting with Abbas in New York on Wednesday.
Pro-Israel lawmakers now want further action.
“The U.S must stand with our ally Israel and offer no U.S. taxpayer dollars and no political support for the PLO,” Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement after the vote.
During a committee hearing earlier in the day, Ros-Lehtinen noted that the U.S. has provided more than $2 billion in U.S. assistance to the Palestinians “in the last three years alone.”
“Yet, this did not serve as an inducement for the Palestinians to act responsibly, to effectively combat extremism, to pursue sustained unconditional direct negotiations with the Israelis, or to abandon their unilateral statehood scheme at the U.N.,” she said.
“At a time when our own economic situation is in dire straits, should the U.S. be helping the Palestinians rebuild their economy and providing them with millions in hard-earned U.S. taxpayer dollars while Palestinian extremists embrace violence and undermine the peace process?”