Updated at 5:21 p.m. ET -- With the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approving a resolution Thursday to implicitly recognize a Palestinian state, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can chalk up the vote as a personal triumph on two levels.
From his headquarters in Ramallah on the West Bank Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, has endured top Arab leaders beating a path to his rival in Gaza, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas. Hamas may not have won militarily in this month's mini-war with Israel but it paid off big-time, politically and diplomatically. From pariah status, Hamas emerged as the power-player in Palestinian politics with a clear message: violence pays.
Abbas, who all his political life has preached non-violence, has recently seen his already marginalized position eroded further. All the more reason for him to have insisted on the United Nations vote, fending off objections and threats from Israel and Washington. So victory in the General Assembly sounds his own strong message: non-violence pays, too.
Being accepted as a non-member state, a promotion from its previous observer state, is the Palestinians' biggest political victory. It places them on the path to full recognition as a member-state of the United Nations, and allows it to join U.N. agencies such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The non-member observer state status could also open the way for possible war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court.
Another personal triumph for Abbas: For the last two years Abbas has threatened to resign, claiming he wanted a quieter life. U.N. victory means he can say to his compatriots: I have fulfilled my promise and leave you now with this new status in international politics. Now you take the baton and run with it. He could bow out on top. That's what Palestinians in Ramallah today were saying could be Abbas' next step.
Another result of success in the United Nations has already been the united voice of Palestinians today. In a rare show of unity, Hamas has joined Fatah celebrations in the West Bank and Gaza, celebrating together this historic political moment.
These symbolic breakthroughs for Abbas and the Palestinians may not mean any change on the ground, though.
Initially Israel threatened that if Abbas did not call off the vote it would punish Abbas: withhold tax payments, possible annex the Jewish settlements on the West Bank and impose harsh sanctions. In the past few days that position has softened.
But Israel still insists, joined by Washington, that Abbas' U.N. gambit is no substitute for face-to-face negotiations. The road to peace does not go via the U.N. Plaza in New York but via Jerusalem and Ramallah.
And although this appears like a Palestinian victory, analysts here point out that whatever Abbas has achieved in the United Nations today is less than Palestinians were offered 65 years ago. Back then they were offered a state in Palestine and full membership in the United Nations. Now celebrations are about their status as a "non-member state."
Martin Fletcher is the author of "The List", "Breaking News" and "Walking Israel."
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