Speaking before the vote, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the U.N. actions offered the only means to salvage a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We did not come here to delegitimize a state established years ago, and that is Israel,” he said. “Rather we came to affirm the legitimacy of a state that must now achieve its independence, and that is Palestine.”
But the United States and Israel said the Palestinian bid would complicate efforts to restart stalled Middle East peace talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement accusing Abbas of having “violated the agreements” between the two sides, and pledging that “Israel will act accordingly.”
“The decision at the U.N. today will change nothing on the ground,” said Netanyahu, insisting that only direct talks will confer true statehood on the Palestinians. “It will not advance the establishment of a Palestinian state; it will push it off.”
Speaking in Washington minutes after the vote, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the U.N. action “unfortunate and counterproductive.”
“We have been clear that only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and Israelis achieve the peace they both deserve: Two states for two peoples, with a sovereign, viable and independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel,” she said.
The date of the Palestinian statehood bid carries symbolic importance for both sides, coming on the anniversary of the General Assembly vote on Nov. 29, 1947, to partition British-ruled Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, a step that led to the creation of Israel.
Thursday’s vote exposed deep divisions within Europe over Palestinian statehood, with France, Italy and Spain supporting the Palestinians, and Germany and Britain abstaining. But the Europeans remained united in calling for Middle East peace talks to be restarted as soon as possible.
Expressing grave concern over the impasse, Britain’s U.N. envoy, Mark Lyall-Grant, appealed to the Obama administration to take charge of the peace process. “Our central objective is to achieve a return to credible negotiations in order to secure a two-state solution,” Lyall-Grant said. “We looked at the United States, with the strong and active support of the United Kingdom, and the international community, to do all it can in the coming weeks and months to take a decisive lead in restarting negotiations.”