Palestinians celebrate UN vote, US says it creates obstacles
Palestinians have erupted in wild cheers, hugging each other and honking car horns after the United Nations voted to grant them, at least formally, what they have long yearned for - a state of their own.
AP reports that in the central celebration in the West Bank city of Ramallah, hundreds crowding into the main square waved Palestinian flags and chanted "God is great" after the UN General Assembly vote.
It accepted "Palestine" as a non-member observer state with a vote of 138 in favour, nine against and 41 abstentions.
The decision won't immediately change lives here, since much of what the world body is defining as the territory of that state - the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem - remains under Israeli control. Yet many Palestinians savored the global recognition.
The Hamas movement in Gaza welcomed the UN General Assembly's vote, calling it a "victory."
"This is a new victory on the road to the liberation of Palestine and return and we congratulate ourselves," senior Hamas official Ahmed Yussef told AFP.
"We in Hamas consider this a shared achievement that casts joy on our people," he added, AFP reports.
Until this week, the Hamas leadership in Gaza had been opposed to the bid for upgraded status led by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who heads the rival Palestinian faction Fatah.
But after Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal expressed public support for the bid, along with other members of the leadership-in-exile, the Gaza government offered its own tepid backing.
It allowed rallies backing the request to go ahead in Gaza on Thursday, though there was little evidence that its own members were participating.
Hamas official in exile Izzat al-Rishq, writing on his Facebook page on Friday, also praised the General Assembly vote.
"We welcome the decision of the UN General Assembly to grant Palestine non-member observer state status, and we consider this to be a gain for our people, although Palestine deserves more than that," he wrote.
Hamas had in the past criticised the bid as a unilateral move, taken by Abbas without consultation with all the Palestinian political movements.
It had also warned that the bid, which makes reference to a Palestinian state on the lines that existed before the 1967 Six Day War, could jeopardise Palestinian rights.
But the about-face on the issue, apparently led by the leadership-in-exile, has led to speculation that the Islamist group could be ready for another round of reconciliation talks with Abbas's Fatah movement.
The Palestinian leader has said his first priority after the UN bid will be to try to resume those discussions, which have led almost nowhere since the two sides signed a reconciliation deal in Cairo last year.
The US however said the vote creates "obstacles" to peace between the Palestinians and Washington's close ally Israel.
"Today's unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path to peace. That is why the United States voted against it," the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, told the UN General Assembly.
The United States and Israel were among just nine countries bucking global support for a resolution giving Palestine non-member observer status at the UN.
Rice dismissed the importance of the historic, if largely symbolic UN vote.
"Today's grand announcements will soon fade and the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow to find little of their lives has changed, save (that) the prospects of a durable peace have receded," she said.
"This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state," she said, echoing an earlier speech by the ambassador to Israel. "Today's vote should not be misconstrued by any as constituting eligibility for UN membership."
Rice said that "only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and the Israelis achieve the peace that both deserve."
French President Francois Hollande called for the resumption of negotiations "without conditions and as quickly as possible" between Israel and the Palestinians after the upgrade.
"Direct dialogue is in effect the only way to find a definitive end to this conflict. France is ready to contribute to it, as a friend, both of Israel and of Palestine," Hollande said in a statement.