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UN upgrades Palestinian status to non-member observer state

The United Nations General Assembly has voted and approved an upgrade to Palestine's status. The displaced population is now classed as a non-member state.

The 193-member assembly overwhelmingly voted in favor of granting Palestinians non-member observer status, a result that was widely expected. Palestine achieved its new status by a tally of 138-9 in a late Thursday vote in New York City. Germany was one of 41 countries to abstain from the ballot.

The new status, which was sought by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, recognizes Palestinian statehood without granting Palestinians any voting rights at the UN. The only current observer state, the Vatican, is classed by the UN as a non-member state.

The United States and Israel voted against the upgrade, calling it an "obstacle" to building lasting peace between Palestine and Israel.

US expresses disappointment

Following the vote, both the US ambassador to the UN and the US secretary of state expressed their disapproval of the move.

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UN recognizes Palestinian state

"This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state," US UN Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters. "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.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed her own warnings from earlier this week, calling the vote "unfortunate and counterproductive."

A Palestinian bid for full membership status was thwarted by opposition from the US in the UN Security Council last year. A "no" vote by any permanent member of the Security Council, commonly called a veto, automatically stops any Security Council motion. The non-member status vote, by contrast, only needed a two-thirds majority from the UN General Assembly and therefore did not require approval by permanent UN Security Council members.

Recognition grants Palestinians access to bodies, such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where they could file complaints against Israel.

Abbas demands "birth certificate"

In the lead-up to the UN's decision, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the Assembly in a final plea for approval.

"Sixty-five years ago on this day, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 181, which partitioned the land of historic Palestine into two states and became the birth certificate for Israel," said Abbas.

"We must repeat here once again our warning: the window of opportunity is narrowing and time is quickly running out. The rope of patience is shortening and hope is withering," he said.

In reaction to the speech, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement.

"These are not the words of a man who wants peace," said Netanyahu's statement, which added that Abbas' words were "hostile and poisonous."

Over the past week, Western leaders rallied in support of Palestinians' demand for international recognition, with some countries, like France, confirming their vote ahead of time.

The US, however, attempted to dissuade President Abbas from seeking the new status, contending that bypassing direct negotiations with Israel would undermine his goal of statehood.

kms/msh (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)

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