A majority of countries on Thursday voted in favour of the Palestinian Authority's bid to have its status in the UN upgraded to state recognition.
The Palestinian Authority is now a non-member observer state. It was previously a non-member observer. The new status will allow it access to some UN international agencies and to sign treaties.
"Sixty-five years ago on this day, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 181, which partitioned the land of historic Palestine into two states and became the birth certificate for Israel," said Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president. He was greeted by the General Assembly with standing applause and uncharacteristic whistling.
"The United Nations General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the state of Palestine."
Canada, U.S. vocally oppose vote
In the General Assembly, 138 countries voted yes, including France, Turkey, Russia and China. Nine countries voted no, and 41 countries abstained.
Canada voted against the bid, along with the U.S. and Israel.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was in New York to oppose the move by the Palestinians to have their status upgraded in the UN, and presented Canada's concerns directly before the world body.
"We cannot support an initiative that we are firmly convinced will undermine the objective of reaching a comprehensive, lasting and just settlement for both sides. It is for these reasons that Canada is voting against this resolution," said Baird. "We will be considering all available next steps."
There has been speculation that Canada will ask the Palestinian delegation in Ottawa to leave or not renew its $300 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority over five years.
Deepak Obhrai, Baird's parliamentary secretary, said Canada has not made any decisions about its future interactions with the Palestinian Authority.
"Whatever decision we take will be a very responsible decision," he said. "Our goal is to achieve peace in the region."
Paul Dewar, the NDP's foreign affairs critic, said he was deeply disappointed with Canada's vote.
"[Baird] left us with this veiled threat for the Palestinians," he said. "And the question for the Conservatives is: how is that going to advance peace?"
NDP leader Tom Mulcair said his party supported the Palestinian Authority's request for enhanced status within the UN.
"We understand that if we want the peace process to move forward, we’ve got to start seeing concrete steps like this one," he said.
Canada's vote was expected by the NDP as Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said Canada favours a two-state solution in the region.
"That will not be accomplished in reality unless and until the Palestinian Authority returns to the negotiating table and is able to get a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel.… So we encourage them to do that and we will not support any other shortcuts or any other ways of trying to arrive at that solution without such a peace agreement," he told reporters on Wednesday.
The U.S. also voted against the bid, and Ambassador Susan Rice, the country's permanent UN representative, tweeted shortly after the vote: "Today's unfortunate & counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path to peace."
In her explanation of her country's position, Rice said, "Long after the votes have been cast, long after the speeches have been forgotten, it is the Palestinians and the Israelis who must still talk to each other and listen to each other and find a way to live side by side in the land they share."
Vote 'won't change anything,' Israel says
While people in the West Bank celebrated and Palestine's chief negotiator called Palestine a country under Israeli occupation, Israel said the UN vote does not change anything.
"Regrettably, it won’t serve the cause of negotiations," said Jonathan Peled, an Israeli government spokesman. "And it sends the wrong message … It sets unnecessary illusionary aspirations for the Palestinians as it won’t change anything on the ground."
Peled said despite 138 countries voting in favour of granting Palestinians non-member observer state status, "there is a growing understanding … there is no other alternative than for direct negotiations."
Some of the nations that voted for the motion echoed Peled's belief in their explanations of their vote.
"We look upon this resolution as an appeal for the resumption of direct negotiations and as the keystone supporting a two-state solution, whose prospects are fading," read Switzerland's explanation.
Prior to the vote, the Palestinians said they need UN recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem to be able to resume negotiations with Israel.
The non-member observer state status could also open the way for possible war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court. The U.S. and Israel have both threatened retaliation if the Palestinian Authority pursues that approach.