U.N. gives Palestinians new rights despite U.S. objections

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — In a boost to the Palestinians and a defeat for U.S. lobbying, the General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to grant the Palestinians’ U.N. delegation nearly the same rights as those given independent states. Washington said the move would complicate peacemaking.
Israel dismissed the action as “a minor correction” in the status of the Palestinian observer mission and called the Palestinian attempt to change its standing a violation of the peace accords.
The Palestinians called the 124-4 vote a huge step toward declaration of statehood.
The Arab-sponsored resolution gives the Palestinian observer mission a unique, nonvoting seat in the 185-member assembly.
The new powers mean Palestinian representatives can raise issues concerning the peace process in the General Assembly, cosponsor draft resolutions on Middle East peace and reply on the record to speeches made at the world body. They cannot vote or put forward candidates for U.N. committees, such as the Security Council, however.
More important, the vote affirmed international support for the Palestinians in the protracted Middle East peace process.
Washington had argued against the new designation, saying any U.N. action on Israel or the Palestinians could jeopardize its efforts to restart peace talks stalled since March 1997.
Because of the unique vote, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was to report back to the assembly on how the Palestinians’ new rights would be implemented.
The Palestine Liberation Organization was granted observer status in the General Assembly in 1974, enabling it to maintain an office in New York, but without the same privileges as missions of U.N. member states.
In December, the Arab states submitted a resolution to upgrade the Palestinians’ status to that of a nonvoting member.
Israel and the United States strongly opposed the move and the resolution was derailed until Arab states resurrected it last month.