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Statehood for jubilant Palestinians

Jubilant Palestinians crowded around outdoor screens and television sets at home Thursday to watch the United Nations vote on granting them, at least formally, what they have long yearned for, a state of their own.

A General Assembly vote to accept "Palestine" as an observer state won't immediately change lives here, since much of what the world body is defining as the territory of that state, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, remains under Israeli control.

Yet many Palestinians savored the global recognition after decades of setbacks in the quest for Palestinian independence in lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.

"For the first time, there will be a state called Palestine, with the recognition of the entire world," said Amir Hamdan, a 35-year-old dentist from the refugee camp of Kalandia. "Today the world will hear our voice."

He brought his wife, Nevine, and their two toddlers to the central square in the West Bank city of Ramallah, joining more than 2,000 Palestinians watching the vote on an outdoor screen. Some clapped, danced and waved Palestinian flags.

Hundreds more watched in biblical Bethlehem, with the U.N. speech of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas projected onto a towering wall that is part of Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank.

Beyond the emotions and symbolism of the day, U.N. recognition also brings real advantages.

Palestinians say it will strengthen their hand in future talks with Israel, which has lambasted the recognition bid as an attempt to bypass such negotiations.

With its vote, the U.N. is firmly rejecting Israeli attempts to portray the territories earmarked for Palestine as "disputed," or up for grabs, rather than "occupied," Abbas aides say.

The U.N. bid also could help Abbas restore some of his standing, which has been eroded by years of standstill in peace efforts. His rival, Hamas, deeply entrenched in Gaza, has seen its popularity rise after an Israeli offensive on targets linked to the Islamic militant group there earlier this month.

At least formally, the vote puts Palestine on equal footing with Israel, meaning future talks would be conducted between two states, rather than between a military occupier and a people under occupation.

The Canadian Press


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