The United Nations General Assembly has overwhelmingly voted recognize the sovereign state of Palestine, upgrading its observer status from "entity" to "non-member state." The move is viewed as a victory for Palestinians, but a diplomatic setback for the United States and Israel, who were joined by only a handful of countries in opposing the decision. With more than 190 members in the General Assembly, there were 138 votes in favor, nine against and 41 abstentions. Three countries did not take part. The vote came on the 65th anniversary of the adoption of U.N. Resolution 181 that partitioned Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. "This was a referendum on the United States’s mediation of the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians," says Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund and its educational program, the Palestine Center. "The vast majority of the world, I think, said yesterday that that has failed, and it’s time for a different approach." [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show with Thursday’s vote in the United Nations General Assembly to recognize the sovereign state of Palestine. The vote represents a long-sought victory for Palestinians but a diplomatic setback for the United States and Israel, who were joined by only a handful of countries in opposing the decision to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s observer status from an "entity" to a "non-member state." With over 190 members in the General Assembly, there were 138 votes in favor, nine against and 41 abstentions. Three countries did not partake in the vote. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on the world body to issue its long overdue "birth certificate."
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS: [translated] On the same day which your esteemed body has designated as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the General Assembly stands before a moral duty, which it must not hesitate to undertake, and stands before a historic duty, which cannot endure further delay, and before a practical duty to salvage the chances for peace, which is urgent and cannot be postponed. Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, the United Nations General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the state of Palestine.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressing the U.N. General Assembly Thursday before the vote, which was held on the 65th anniversary of the adoption of U.N. Resolution 181 that partitioned Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. After the world body granted Palestine non-member status, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice—U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, strongly condemned the decision.
AMB. SUSAN RICE: Progress towards a just and lasting two-state solution cannot be made by pressing a green voting button here in this hall. Nor does passing any resolution create a state where none, indeed, exists or change the reality on the ground. For this reason, today’s vote should not be misconstrued by any as constituting eligibility for U.N. membership. It does not. This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state. The United States believes the current resolution should not and cannot be read as establishing terms of reference.
AMY GOODMAN: Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
To talk more about the significance of this vote, we to go Washington, D.C., to speak with Yousef Munayyer. He’s executive director of the Jerusalem Fund educational program, as well, the Palestine Center.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Yousef. Your response to this vote? Do you consider this historic?
YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Well, it’s certainly—it’s certainly historic. What it means, though, I think, is what—what is the bigger question here. Look, there is still a occupation of Palestine. The colonization of Palestinian territory continues. It continues today just as it was yesterday. So that has not changed. What I think is important, though, is that the United States and Israel and very, very few people, very few states who voted against this, are really isolated now internationally. And I think that was the important symbolism of this vote yesterday, is that this was a referendum on the United States’s mediation of the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, and the vast majority of the world, I think, said yesterday that that has failed, and it’s time for a different approach.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Yousef, what do you make of the—it seems that both Israel and the United States were very concerned about the potential now with this vote for the Palestinian Authority to go to the International Criminal Court and begin to raise concerns about war crimes by Israel on the Palestinian people. Can you talk about that?
YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Sure. And I don’t understand what the reason to be concerned is. If the Israelis are in fact not guilty of war crimes, they should not have a problem defending themselves before any international body. And so, I don’t think that that should be a problem. I think the reason the United States and the Israelis are so upset about the Palestinians having the opportunity to go in that direction—not going in that direction, but just having the opportunity to go in that direction—is that it takes them outside of a process that has been mediated by the United States, wherein Israel has been able to have their way with the Palestinians and have the United States in their corner the entire time. And so, of course, the United States and Israel are very frustrated by this, not because there’s anything really wrong with being able to use those international forums for justice, but because it takes the ball out of the court of the United States and Israel where U.S. mediation gives Israel a distinct advantage.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play for you Israel Ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor’s explanation before the vote, why Israel would not be supporting it.
AMB. RON PROSOR: Israel is prepared to live in peace with a Palestinian state, but for peace to endure, Israel’s security must be protected. The Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state, and they must be prepared to end the conflict with Israel once and for all. None of these vital interests, these vital interests of peace—none of them—appear in the resolution that will be put forward before the General Assembly today, and that is why Israel cannot accept it. The only way to achieve peace is through agreements that are reached by the parties and not through the U.N., resolutions that completely ignore Israel’s vital security and national interests. And because this resolution is so one-sided, it doesn’t advance peace. It pursues—it then pushes it backwards. As for the rights of the Jewish people in this land, I have a simple message for those people gathered in the General Assembly today: No decision by the U.N. can break the 4,000-year-old bond between the people of Israel and the land of Israel.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prosor. Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund, your response?
YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Right, well, I think, you know, he made—he made the statement that the—of the Israeli position and the American position, which is that, you know, any progress has to come through negotiations. The problem is, negotiations have a track record. The reality is, in the past 20 years of negotiations mediated by the United States since the Madrid Conference in 1991, we have seen only continued and aggressive Israeli colonization of Palestinian territory. The average number of settler population growth from 1967 to 1991 was about 8,000 settlers a year. During the peace process years, that number increased to over 20,000 settlers a year. So, the peace process only acted as a cover, an international cover, for Israeli colonization of Palestinian territory.
And so, it’s very easy to say, "We invite the Palestinians back to the negotiating table." The question is, why on earth would the Palestinians ever want to go back to a negotiating table like that? If there’s going to be discussions based on international law, based on meeting actual obligations, based on evenhanded mediation, in that case, then you can talk about having serious negotiations. But the negotiations that we’ve seen for the past 20 years have been a farce and have only acted to allow Israel to continue to occupy and colonize Palestinian territory. I think what we saw yesterday was the Palestinians making the argument that those negotiations have been a farce, and the vast majority of the world agreeing with them. And I think that the few "no" votes that we’ve seen, including the United States, Israel, a couple other countries and a few Pacific islands, shows how isolated the United States is in their approach of defending the Israelis, right or wrong.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yousef, I’d like to ask you about the reaction of another major figure, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spoke just after the votes were announced, and particularly in light of the fact that she is not only the outgoing secretary of state, but widely considered to be the leading Democrat—candidate for the Democratic nomination four years from now for president. This is what she had to say.
SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: Before I begin, I want to say a few words about the unfortunate and counterproductive resolution at the United Nations General Assembly that just passed, because it places further obstacles in the path to peace. We have been clear that only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and Israelis achieve the peace they both deserve: two states for two people, with a sovereign, viable, independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Your reaction, Yousef Munayyer?
YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Look, I think, you know, the secretary of state’s reaction, you know, the reaction from the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, yesterday, all of them really underscore the Palestinians’ point in this argument, that the United States is simply uncapable of being an evenhanded mediator. The United States reacted more harshly yesterday and with stronger condemnation for the action of a completely nonviolent diplomatic move in the United Nations, that was as multilateral as it can get, than they do to the continued settlement expansion in Palestinian territory, which is as unilateral as you can get and as much of a move that undermines the viability of a Palestinian state as could possibly be. So I think it really underscores exactly why the U.S. is incapable of mediating this conflict. Look—
AMY GOODMAN: Yousef—
YOUSEF MUNAYYER: —domestic—go ahead, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Yousef.
YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Domestic politics in the United States make it very difficult for anyone with political ambitions to be evenhanded about this issue. And you know what? Palestinians get that. We understand that the United States has its politics, as every country does, and that’s fine. That’s for the United States to figure out what’s best for them. But you know what? If that’s going to be the case, if that’s the way that the United States is, and if it is so uncapable of being an evenhanded mediator, fine. Don’t stand in the way of the rest of the world, though, with persistent vetoes in the United Nations Security Council, preventing anyone else from doing anything—
AMY GOODMAN: Yousef—
YOUSEF MUNAYYER: —because while the United States—go ahead, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask what you think changed this year, because the U.S. succeeded in preventing this kind of vote from happening before. And finally, what exactly does it mean? What—this puts Palestine—it’s a very unusual status. Is it the Vatican alone that has this status at the United Nations?
YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Sure. Well, what changed this time is that the United States couldn’t use their veto, because this is not a U.N. Security Council vote. I think that that’s the biggest change here. This is a vote in the United Nations General Assembly, which is based on a—you know, a more democratic vote-counting system where no one party can torpedo the outcome in the way that the United States has been able to do on not just Palestinian statehood, but a variety of U.N. Security Council resolutions concerning Palestine over—over past decades. Over the past 30 years or so, there have been more than 40 U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Israeli actions, in which the United States has been the single, solitary "no" vote in the United Nations Security Council. The U.S. has used its position in the United Nations Security Council to prevent any international action and to corner the peace process for itself, which, again, it has proved it cannot evenhandedly mediate.
Regarding your—your other point about—your other question about, you know, what status is this, this is a minor change of status for Palestine within the United Nations. There have been a number of different states that have had this status and have eventually moved to full recognition as member states in the past. Right now, it does not change anything, really, on the ground for the Palestinians, but affords them some opportunities to redress grievances in other international institutions, like the International court—Criminal Court, and so on.
But the important thing, moving forward, is, what is this going to mean for people on the ground? And here’s the really important possible outcome here. This is the strategy of some Palestinian leaders, particularly in the PLO, the Fatah-led camp in the West Bank. The strategy of other leaders who believe in armed struggle was on display in recent weeks in what we saw in Gaza. A third camp among Palestinians, which I think overlaps the other two, which is Palestinian civil society, they have called for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the state of Israel for their continued occupation of Palestine. And so, all of them agree that there need to be costs imposed on the Israelis to change the situation, to change the status quo. And now it’s a question of which strategy is going to be the most effective. And I think what the United States and other parties around the world need to do is realize that they can incentivize the Palestinians towards a strategy that is in everybody’s interest. Clearly, uneven negotiations have not been successful. And so, we need to incentivize Palestinians in a direction that is towards their liberation and not towards the continued colonization of their territory.
AMY GOODMAN: Yousef Munayyer, I want to thank you very much for being with us, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund and its educational program, the Palestine Center. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’re going to find out the latest that’s happening in the Congo and also speak with Michael Ratner, the attorney for Julian Assange who was in the courtroom yesterday when Bradley Manning spoke out for the first time after two years in prison. Stay with us.