US, Israel isolated in condemning Palestine vote

The United States and Israel downplayed Thursday the Palestinians' new upgraded status at the UN, saying it changed nothing in actual practice and even made peace with the Jewish state a remoter prospect.

Palestinians rejoiced at the historic albeit largely symbolic vote at the UN General Assembly in New York, firing guns into the air in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, shooting off fireworks and embracing each other with glee.

In between the two ends of the spectrum were major powers like Britain, which said it respected the vote but abstained on the grounds that the Palestinians had not unconditionally agreed to negotiations on a lasting two-state deal with Israel.

Britain pledged support for efforts to reach an elusive peace accord, as did France, which voted for the resolution but called on Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks without conditions and as soon as possible.

The Vatican welcomed the 138-9 vote, saying it reflected the majority sentiment of the international community and the Holy See had long encouraged more global involvement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Peace needs courageous decisions," it said in a statement.

But top US diplomats warned the Palestinians that they had essentially achieved nothing, while Israel sounded as angry as the Palestinians did joyful.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's speech before the General Assembly ahead of the vote on the status upgrade was "defamatory and venomous."

"The world watched a defamatory and venomous speech that was full of mendacious propaganda against the IDF (army) and the citizens of Israel," the statement said.

The American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said the Palestinians' joy would be short-lived.

"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."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Washington, used exactly the same language to denounce a decision that she said "places further obstacles in the path to peace."

The United States and Israel were among just nine countries bucking global support for a resolution giving Palestine non-member status at the United Nations.

Speaking prior to the vote, Netanyahu said in Jerusalem: "The decision at the United Nations today won't change anything on the ground." He added, "It won't promote the establishment of a Palestinian state; it will distance it.

"Israel's hand is always extended in peace, but a Palestinian state will not be established without (a Palestinian) recognition of the State of Israel as the Jewish people's state," Netanyahu said.

Among the allies of Israel and the United States was Canada, whose foreign minister John Baird said giving Palestine non-member observer status, a step on the path to full UN membership, "undermines the core" of attempts to broker a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal.

But nothing would spoil the Palestinians' big day.

The hardline Hamas movement, which had opposed its rival Abbas's drive for the status change on grounds it was unilateral and not a product of consensus, welcomed the vote as a victory.

And while some in Ramallah recognized it was a half-triumph, they savored it nonetheless.

"I'm happy they declared the state even though it's only a moral victory. There are a lot of sharks out there, but it feels good," 39-year-old Rashid al-Kor told AFP.

Ethar al-Asmar, a teacher, was pragmatic about the approval.

"Israel isn't going anywhere," she admitted. But, she said, the moment felt historic nonetheless.

"We have been waiting for this for so long. I never thought this day would come."

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