NEW YORK (JTA) — The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to upgrade Palestine to a non-member observer state.
The vote Thursday was 138 to 9, with 41 countries abstaining. The Palestinians had been expected handily to win the vote, which is largely symbolic.
Cheers erupted in the General Assembly and leaders on the floor embraced Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas following the vote, which came after contentious speeches by Abbas and Ron Prosor, the Israeli envoy to the United Nations.
Abbas called the vote the “last chance to save the two-state solution,” while Prosor said the “resolution does not advance peace.”
Few benefits accrue to the “observer state of Palestine” that the Palestine Liberation Organization, the non-member entity until Thursday, did not already have.
Membership in constituent U.N. organizations is still not automatic and “Palestine” must apply for membership in each, as it did when the PLO was a non-member entity.
“Today’s unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path to peace,” U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said in floor remarks after the speech. “This resolution does not establish Palestine as a state.”
Israel, the Obama administration and congressional lawmakers have indicated that there will not be immediate penalties for the successful Palestinian bid for statehood recognition.
Instead, Israel and the United States will wait to see whether the Palestinians use the vote as cover for renewing peace talks with Israel — a longtime Israel and U.S. demand — or whether it will now seek membership in the U.N. court system and attempt to bring charges against Israel, in which case Israel and the U.S. will explore financial penalties on the Palestinian Authority.
A Palestinian bid last year to gain full membership failed when it was rejected by the U.N. Security Council. Non-member observer status needs only General Assembly approval.