Palestinians won a victory on the world stage Thursday when the U.N. General Assembly voted to grant them enhanced status in the world body, but they could face a backlash in Washington, where lawmakers introduced legislation to kick them out of their diplomatic offices and to strip U.S. aid.
The 138-9 U.N. vote elevates Palestine to "non-member observer state" status, which could give it access to some international bodies, including the chance to take cases to the International Criminal Court.
Palestinian officials said the vote amounts to granting it a "birth certificate" signifying its validity as a state. Israel's ambassador disputed that, saying it does not confer statehood, because the two Palestinian territories in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank do not meet the definitions of an independent country.
And the entire exercise was colored by the recent flare-up of violence that saw rockets shot from Gaza into Israel and Israeli military strikes in return in Gaza. That violence was halted late last week by a cease-fire.
"The moment has arrived for the world to say clearly, enough of aggression," Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the U.N., drawing standing ovations at the beginning and end of his address. His speech was peppered with charges of Israeli aggression in Gaza, where he talked of children "murdered" by Israeli forces.
The vote set off celebrations in the West Bank city of Ramallah, according to the Associated Press, which reported Palestinians setting off fireworks and honking car horns.
Mr. Abbas said his goal in seeking the U.N. recognition was not to halt the peace process. It was the only way, he said, to restart negotiations toward a two-state solution.
Ron Prosor, Israel's ambassador to the U.N., said the U.N. vote would do just the opposite.
"There are no short cuts, no quick fixes, no instant solutions," he said.
Mr. Prosor also said by voting to give Palestine enhanced status the U.N. is allowing Palestinians to break binding agreements that called for the two sides to resolve matters through direct negotiations.
"For the people of Israel, it raises a simple question — why continue to make painful sacrifices for peace, in exchanges for pieces of paper that the other side will not honor," he said.
The U.S. and Israel voted against the move, as did Canada, the Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Panama. Another 41 countries abstained.
Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said the vote does nothing to enhance prospects for average Palestinians.
"Today's unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path to peace. That is why the United States voted against it," she said.
In Washington, members of Congress took steps to try to punish the Palestinians for their move. A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation to kick the Palestinian Liberation Organization out of its offices on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C., and to withhold U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority should it choose to take its complaints to the ICC.
"This is a provocative, unhealthy step that will undermine the peace process," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, who sponsored the amendment along with Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
The ICC is a major point of contention. With its enhanced status, some analysts said Palestinians could now take cases against individual Israelis to the international tribunal, where they could be charged with war crimes stemming from the decades-long conflict.
Mr. Abbas didn't mention using the ICC in his remarks Thursday.
The senators pushing legislation in Washington said they'll seek a vote as part of the defense policy bill debate, which is taking place on the Senate floor.
The PLO office in Washington did not have immediate comment Thursday afternoon.
Withholding U.S. funds could amount to nearly $1 billion between 2012 and 2013.
Mr. Abbas is in a tough position. His faction controls the West Bank, but Hamas, which the U.S. identifies as a terrorist organization, controls Gaza. Mr. Prosor pointedly noted that Mr. Abbas cannot even travel to 40 percent of the territory ostensibly under his control as president.
With little control over the violent flare-up in Gaza, Mr. Abbas' move at the U.N. was seen as an effort to try to reclaim a measure of authority.
Last year, he had threatened to make the same request, but backed down under pressure from President Obama and others.
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