The United Nations voted overwhelmingly Thursday to recognize a Palestinian state, a victory decades in the making for the Palestinians after years of occupation and war. It was a sharp rebuke for Israel and the United States.
A Palestinian flag was quickly unfurled on the floor of the General Assembly, behind the Palestinian delegation, as the final vote was cast.
In an extraordinary lineup of international support, more than two-thirds of the world body's 193 member states approved the resolution upgrading the Palestinians to a nonmember observer state. It passed 138-9, with 41 abstentions.
The historic vote came 65 years to the day after the U.N. General Assembly voted in 1947 to divide Palestine into two states, one for Jews and one for Arabs. Israel became a state but the Palestinians rejected the partition plan, and decades of tension and violence have followed.
Real independence, however, remains an elusive dream until the Palestinians negotiate a peace deal with the Israelis, who warned that the General Assembly action will only delay a lasting solution. Israel still controls the West Bank, east Jerusalem and access to Gaza, and it accused the Palestinians of bypassing negotiations with the campaign to upgrade their U.N. status.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, jubilant Palestinians crowded into the main square, waving Palestinian flags and chanting "God is great!" Hundreds had watched the vote on outdoor screens and televisions, and they hugged, honked their horns and set off fireworks as the final vote was cast.
The tally came after a speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in which he called the moment a "last chance" to save the two-state solution.
"The General Assembly is being asked today to issue the birth certificate of Palestine," the Palestinian leader declared.
The United States and Israel immediately criticized the vote.
"Today's unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path of peace," U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said. "Today's grand pronouncements will soon fade and the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives has changed save that the prospects of a durable peace have only receded."
Calling the vote "meaningless," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Abbas of spreading "mendacious propaganda" against Israel in a speech he rejected as "defamatory and venomous."
"The resolution in the U.N. today won't change anything on the ground," Netanyahu said. "It won't advance the establishment of a Palestinian state, but rather, put it further off."