UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations voted overwhelmingly Thursday to recognize a Palestinian state, a long-sought victory for the Palestinians and an embarrassing diplomatic defeat for the United States.
The resolution upgrading the Palestinians' status to a nonmember observer state at the U.N. was approved by a vote of 138-9, with 41 abstentions, in the 193-member world body.
A Palestinian flag was unfurled on the floor of the General Assembly, behind the Palestinian delegation. In the West Bank city of Ramallah, hundreds crowded into the main square waved flags and chanted "God is great." Others who had watched the vote on outdoor screens and television sets hugged, honked and set off fireworks before dancing in the streets.
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.
The United States immediately criticized the historic vote. "Today's unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path peace," U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said.
The United States and Israel voted against recognition, joined by Canada, the Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Panama.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the General Assembly shortly before the vote "defamatory and venomous," saying it was "full of mendacious propaganda" against Israel. Netanyahu called the vote meaningless.
Abbas had told the General Assembly that it was "being asked today to issue the birth certificate of Palestine." Abbas said the vote is the last chance to save the two-state solution.
After the vote, Netanyahu said the U.N. move violated past agreements between Israel and the Palestinians and that Israel would act accordingly, without elaborating what steps it might take.
The vote grants Abbas an overwhelming international endorsement for his key position: establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. With Netanyahu opposed to a pullback to the 1967 lines, this should strengthen Abbas' hand if peace talks resume.
The Palestinians now can gain access to U.N. agencies and international bodies, most significantly the International Criminal Court, which could become a springboard for going after Israel for alleged war crimes or its ongoing settlement building on war-won land.