People march in support of the Palestinian UN bid for observer state status in the West Bank town of Jenin, on Thursday.
RAMALLAH, West Bank — 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.
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 U.N. General Assembly vote.
It accepted “Palestine” as a non-member observer state with a vote of 138 in favor, 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 United States, Israel’s closest ally, mounted an aggressive campaign to head off the General Assembly vote. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defiantly declared Thursday that the Palestinians would have to back down from long-held positions if they ever hope to gain independence.
In a last-ditch move Wednesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns made a personal appeal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas promising that President Barack Obama would re-engage as a mediator in 2013 if Abbas abandoned the effort to seek statehood. The Palestinian leader refused, said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat.
In a statement Thursday, Abbas appealed to all nations to vote in favor of the Palestinians “as an investment in peace.”
“We remain committed to the two-state solution and our hand remains extended in peace,” Abbas said in a statement read by Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki after the start of the General Assembly session. Abbas is expected to address the assembly in the afternoon.
The Palestinians said they needed U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the lands Israel captured in 1967, to be able to resume negotiations with Israel. They said global recognition of the 1967 lines as the borders of Palestine is meant to salvage a peace deal, not sabotage it, as Israel claims.
The non-member observer state status could also open the way for possible war crimes charges against the Jewish state at the International Criminal Court.
While Israel argues that Abbas is trying to dictate the outcome of border talks by going to the U.N., the recognition request presented to the world body in fact calls for a quick resumption of negotiations on all core issues of the conflict, including borders.
Netanyahu’s predecessors accepted the 1967 lines as a basis for border talks. Netanyahu has rejected the idea, while pressing ahead with Jewish settlement building on war-won land, giving Abbas little incentive to negotiate.
In a departure from previous opposition, the Hamas militant group, which rules the Gaza Strip, said it wouldn’t interfere with the U.N. bid, and its supporters joined some of the celebrations Thursday.
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