UN assembly approves Palestinian statehood over US objections

The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelming Thursday to grant Palestine statehood, leaving the United States and its ally Israel hopelessly outnumbered.

ADVERTISEMENT
The final vote was 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions. The vote gives the Palestinian Liberation Organization, chaired by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, non-member observer status and the power to join U.N. bodies such as the International Criminal Court.

“The United Nations General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the state of Palestine,” said Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen. 

“We did not come here seeking to delegitimize a state established years ago, and that is Israel, rather we came to affirm the legitimacy of a state that (will now achieve) independence and that is Palestine.”

Abbas said Thursday's vote would “breathe new life into the negotiations” over a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel's ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prosor, said the opposite would happen because the Palestinians would feel emboldened to continue what he deemed to be their obstructionism.

“Time and again, we have sought peace with the Palestinians,” Prosor said. “Time and again, we have been met by rejection, denial, and even terrorism.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice also denounced the vote.

“Progress toward a just and lasting two-state solution cannot be made by pressing a green voting button in this hall,” she said.

U.S. lawmakers vowed to retaliate.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called on Congress to impose “severe economic consequences” for the U.N.'s “irresponsible” action. 

She said the United States should cut the $600 million in annual funding for the Palestinian Authority as well as any funding for U.N. agencies that recognize Palestine as a state.

“It’s crystal clear that Abu Mazen and his cronies are not partners for peace and do not value their relationship with the U.S.,” she said in a prepared statement. 

“The U.S must stand with our ally Israel and offer no U.S. taxpayer dollars and no political support for the PLO. As other UN bodies will no doubt use the General Assembly resolution as an excuse to grant membership to a non-existent Palestinian state, U.S. law is clear: UN agencies that grant membership to a Palestinian state lose their U.S. funding.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on Wednesday introduced legislation that would cut off the almost $600 million the United States pays in UN dues every year.

And a bipartisan quartet of senators unveiled legislation to cut off aid to the Palestinians if they use their new status to pursue criminal charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court. The bill would also shutter the PLO’s Washington office unless the president determines that the Palestinians are engaged in “meaningful negotiations” with Israel.

The bill is championed by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and is being offered as an amendment to the pending defense authorization bill in the Senate. The senators said Thursday they did not want to punish the Palestinians by immediately terminating the $600 million in annual U.S. aid in order to preserve the chance for a negotiated two-state solution with Israel.

“It's a very clear message to the Palestinians: the choice is yours,” Menendez said. “We could have pre-empted that choice. The choice is yours. If you return to a negotiation, we're good.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, however, told The Hill that some senators are still working on retaliatory legislation.

“We're discussing how to handle that, a number of us,” he said in a short hallway interview. “We should react. We're having discussions about it.”