MIDDLE EAST

United Nations

UN vote on Palestine sparks anger in Israel

Officials say result cripples hopes for peace, and reveal plans for more settlements in West Bank

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 December, 2012, 4:02am

The Palestinians' historic UN success sparked angry recriminations in Israel yesterday, with officials saying it crippled peace hopes and the opposition blaming government inaction for causing the crisis.

In response to the general assembly vote, Israel revealed plans to build 3,000 settler homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday overwhelmingly voted to designate Palestine a non-member observer state, a symbolic victory for the stateless Palestinians and a political boost for their embattled president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas claimed what he called a UN "birth certificate" for a Palestinian state and got the backing of 138 countries in the 193-member assembly. Nine voted against and 41 abstained, while five did not participate. Palestine has no vote in the General Assembly but can now join UN agencies.

The United States and Israel immediately condemned the vote, which US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called "counterproductive".

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Thursday that China supported the Palestinian people's efforts to establish an independent state of Palestine that enjoys full sovereignty, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

"We understand, respect and support Palestine's bid to be a UN observer state," he said.

In a 22-minute speech laced with references to Israel's recent battle with Gaza's Hamas rulers, Abbas said time for an accord was running out. "The rope of patience is shortening and hope is withering." Afterwards, he said the vote had been "historic".

"Tomorrow we begin the real war," Abbas said. "I don't want to spoil our victory tonight, but the road ahead is still difficult."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Abbas' address. "The world watched a defamatory and venomous speech … full of mendacious propaganda," his office said.

Hamas welcomed the vote, calling it a "victory", but it criticised Abbas' speech.

Hitting back at the vote, Israel revealed plans yesterday to build 3,000 settler homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Media reports said some of the construction would be in a highly contentious area of the West Bank known as E1, a corridor that runs between the easternmost edge of annexed Jerusalem and the Maaleh Adumim settlement. It would effectively cut the occupied West Bank in two, north to south.

PLO official Hanan Ashrawi called the plans an act of aggression "against a state", adding: "The world needs to take up its responsibilities."

Israel's hawkish foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, told public radio the UN move proved Abbas "is absolutely not interested in making peace". Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni described the UN move as "a strategic terror attack" by the Palestinians, which she blamed on Netanyahu. "The government could have stopped the Palestinian initiative at the UN if it had conducted [peace] negotiations," she charged.

The New York Times, Agence France-Presse