The recognition of Palestine as an observer state in the United Nations was a valuable step forward, even if the earlier request to join as a full member was not achieved. Until now, Palestine could attend meetings of the UN and its member bodies, but now it can take a more active part in the discussions, even though it still cannot vote.
The massive majority in the UN General Assembly showed how limited the support for Israel has become, but the backlash from Israel and the US is disturbing in how they are seeking to create a new agenda that this vote somehow imperils the peace talks. Both Israel and the US have condemned the vote. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the vote “meaningless” and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said it was “unfortunate and counter-productive”.
Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas must continue to make clear that the peace talks can continue perfectly easily whether Palestine has either status of an Observer Entity or an Observer State at the UN. Palestine’s status at the UN is not the cause of the failure of the peace talks. The talks stopped because of Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian land, its continued expansion of illegal colonies on Palestinian land and Netanyahu’s right-wing government’s determination to rely solely on military force to secure Israeli security, disregarding the possibility of seeking security through genuine peace with Palestine.
However, it is also true that Abbas seeks his own political gain from the UN move. For some years, he has been losing ground politically in Palestine and recently was strongly criticised for not taking a more active role in supporting Gaza in the fighting last month. Abbas needs to be more proactive so as to recover some respect from the people, which he hopes the vote in the UN will deliver. Therefore, it is likely that he will also want to use Palestine’s new UN status to harass Israel in the International Criminal Court, seeking to garner some domestic popularity as he does so.