Palestine rejoices after recognition

Palestinians during a rally supporting the Palestinian bid for recognition as a non-member state. Photo / AP
Palestinians during a rally supporting the Palestinian bid for recognition as a non-member state. Photo / AP

Palestinians have partied well into the night after the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to recognise Palestine as a non-member state.

The 193-member assembly voted 138-9 with 41 abstentions for the resolution which enables the Palestinians to join UN agencies and sign international treaties.

A Palestinian flag was quickly unfurled on the floor of the General Assembly, behind the Palestinian delegation.

Israel and the United States were joined by Canada, the Czech Republic, Panama, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau in opposing the vote, with US United Nations ambassador Susan Rice saying Palestinians "will wake up to find little has changed".

"Today's unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path of peace," Rice said.

The US urged Israel and the Palestinian Authorities to return to direct talks without preconditions.

The vote, however, was greeted with celebration in the Palestinian Territories.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, hundreds crowded into the main square waved Palestinian flags and chanted "God is great".

Aucklander Frank Ritchie, education and advocacy manager for TEAR Fund, was at The Wall (dubbed the "Security Fence" by the Israelis) near Bethlehem on the West Bank at the time of the vote.

"As the General Assembly started, about 10pm our time, someone had it projecting onto The Wall. There were big speakers there, the Israeli soldiers were watching from their guard tower, you could see them peering over to make sure nothing went wrong. So everybody was watching it as it happened," Mr Ritchie said.

"We were there, right in the middle of the party, flags waving, music, dancing, everybody was having a great time."

Mr Ritchie said the celebrations have continued throughout the day, peaking just before the vote, and continued well into the night.

"When you experience life in the West Bank, it is reasonably oppressed. Palestinians are having to deal with check points all the time ... they're not always about to travel out of the West Bank, they're having to deal with the military, they feel their land is being sold through settlements, so having the vote take place like it did tonight was a chance for the nations of the world to recognise them as something more ... to be recognised as a state.

"Nothing changes on the ground for Palestinians come tomorrow morning, [but] it gives them a little bit of recognition .. who wouldn't celebrate that when you've been fighting for so long to be recognised?"

Ahead of the vote, President Mahmoud Abbas told the General Assembly that it was "being asked today to issue the birth certificate of Palestine".

Abbas said the vote is the last chance to save the two-state solution.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the speech by Abbas "defamatory and venomous", saying it was "full of mendacious propaganda" against Israel.

New Zealand was among the countries who voted in favour of the resolution.

Earlier today Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the primary reason for voting in favour of the resolution is it reflects the long-standing policy of the New Zealand Government.

"New Zealand is a long-standing supporter of the two state solution. We believe that Israel and a Palestinian state should exist side by side, each respecting the other's right to peace. And we believe that they should arrive at that conclusion through direct talks.

"As I stated in my address to the UN General Assembly earlier this year, we have never regarded a UN resolution as an adequate substitute for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. That is the only way of achieving a durable solution to this question."

However McCully said the UN resolution was "a poor substitute for direct negotiations" between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

"We remain frustrated that two leaders who live half an hour up the road from each other cannot meet to resolve these matters directly."

Mr McCully said officials have discussed the proposed text of the resolution with Palestinian representatives, who have "delivered a resolution that is moderate,
constructive, and reflects our commitment to a two-state solution".

"In our explanation of vote to the UN our Permanent Representative Hon Jim McLay will make clear our absolute commitment to Israel's right to safety and security, and condemn the actions of Hamas extremists in recent weeks," Mr McCully said.

"However, we will also assert our support for the moderate leadership of President Abbas, Prime Minister Fayyad and others who are working to make a two-state solution a viable goal.

"The New Zealand Government is under no illusions as to the utility of a UN resolution. It will solve nothing. But in the absence of the direct talks we have called for, we will deal with the UN resolution on its merits."

- nzherald.co.nz with AFP, AP

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