UN votes to upgrade Palestinians' status

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UNITED NATIONS -- The UN voted overwhelmingly Thursday to recognize a Palestinian state, a long-sought victory for the Palestinians and an embarrassing diplomatic defeat for the United States.

The resolution upgrading the Palestinians' status to a nonmember observer state at the UN was approved in the 193-member world body by a vote of 138-9, with 41 abstentions.

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

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, hundreds crowded into the main square, waving Palestinian flags and chanting "God is great." Others who watched on outdoor screens and on television hugged, honked and set off fireworks before dancing in the streets.

Real independence, however, remains an elusive dream until the Palestinians negotiate a peace deal with the Israelis, who warned that the General Assembly action would only delay a lasting solution. Israel accused the Palestinians of bypassing negotiations with the campaign to upgrade UN status.

The Palestinians still face enormous limitations. They don't control their borders, airspace or trade, they have separate and competing governments in Gaza and the West Bank and they have no unified army or police.

The United States immediately criticized the historic vote. "Today's unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path to peace," UN Ambassador Susan Rice said. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the vote "unfortunate" and "counterproductive."

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

The United States and Israel voted against recognition, joined by Canada, the Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Panama.

Abbas had told the General Assembly that it was "being asked today to issue the birth certificate of Palestine." He said the vote was the last chance to save the two-state solution.

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Netanyahu said the UN move violated past agreements between Israel and the Palestinians and that Israel would act accordingly, without elaborating what steps it might take.

Thursday's vote came on the same day, Nov. 29, that the General Assembly in 1947 voted to recognize a partitioned state in Palestine, with Jews the jubilant revelers then.

The vote grants Abbas an overwhelming international endorsement for his key position: establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. With Netanyahu opposed to a pullback to the 1967 lines, this should strengthen Abbas' hand if peace talks resume.

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