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Lebanese welcome historic U.N. Palestine vote

Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, finishes a speech ahead of a vote at the UN General Assembly on Palestinian "non-member status" on November 29, 2012 in New York City. (John Moore/Getty Images/AFP)

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president and leaders on both sides of the political spectrum hailed Friday the U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state as “a major and historic step” toward the establishment of an independent state for the Palestinians.

President Michel Sleiman described the U.N. decision as “a victory for democracy” and called on Israel to change its policy toward the stalled Middle East peace process.

“Electing Palestine as a non-member state with an observer status at the United Nations with 138 votes is a victory for democracy despite Israel’s pressure to prevent it,” Sleiman said in a statement released by his office.

He said he hoped that the U.N. move would be the beginning for “a new international dealing with the Palestinians and a birth certificate and identity for them and for their state.”

Sleiman also said Israel should draw lessons from the U.N. decision and change its hard-line policy on peace in the Middle East.

“Israel should think wisely about this step, be convinced of the democratic path and get involved in the peace process on the basis of the Madrid conference and the Beirut Arab initiative if it is really seeking peace and wants to abandon the policy of aggression, settlements and Judaization,” he said.

The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Thursday to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state at the world body. The resolution was approved by a more than two-thirds majority of the 193-member world body – a vote of 138-9, with 41 abstentions.

The U.S. and Israel immediately criticized the vote, with U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice condemning it as “an obstacle to peace,” arguing it would not lead to a return to direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

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.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri congratulated Abbas and the Palestinian people on the “political and diplomatic victory achieved with the recognition of Palestine as an observer state at the United Nations.”

In a letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Berri said the diplomatic victory was achieved “as a result of your determination to gain the recognition of Palestine as an observer state at the United Nations as a step on the long road toward achieving the aspirations of your people for the liberation of the land and prisoners, the return of refugees, self-determination and the establishment of a Palestinian state with full sovereignty with Jerusalem as its capital.”

Prime Minister Najib Mikati also called Abbas to congratulate him on the U.N. vote.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri congratulated the Palestinian people and their leadership on gaining observer status at the United Nations. He praised the U.N. vote as “a major step” toward establishing a Palestinian state.

The leader of the Future Movement and the March 14 opposition hoped that “this extraordinary event will constitute a political, ethical and human message to all the international community toward the Palestinians and their aspirations to establish their independent state on their land and end the injustice imposed on them.”

Hariri called on rival Palestinian factions to close ranks following the U.N. vote.

“We hope that this Palestinian success will be an incentive for all Palestinian parties to work to overcome all differences and restore national unity ... in preparation for a stronger move to achieve the ultimate goal of establishing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital,” he said.

Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani congratulated the Palestinians on the U.N. recognition.

“The U.N. decision ... is a victory for the Palestinians’ right to establish a state on their territory occupied by the Israeli enemy,” Qabbani said in a statement. “This decision is the beginning on the road to full liberation of the land of Palestine from the usurper Zionist entity.”

Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, praised the U.N. vote as “a step on the road to regaining the full Palestinian rights.”

“The U.N. General Assembly’s session yesterday [Thursday] was by all means historic whereby Palestine, its people and martyrs have regained with this vote part of the rights,” Siniora said in a statement.

He added that the U.N. vote constituted “a recognition of the cause of the Palestinian people and their right to life, like any other people who have been deprived of their right to establish their independent and sovereign state on their national soil.

“The most important thing in the [U.N.] decision was not the 138 votes which not only said ‘yes to Palestine,’ but also the votes which said ‘no to Israel’ for its aggressive, expansionist and settlement-building policy and for denying the Palestinian right.”

Sidon MP Bahia Hariri telephoned Abbas and other Fatah officials to congratulate them on the achievement.

“This international recognition of Palestine as a state a year after it was accepted as a member in UNESCO constitutes an important turning point in the course of the Palestinian cause and an advanced step in the right direction on the road of the struggles and sacrifices of the great Palestinian people over decades for the sake of liberating their land and setting up their state,” she said in a statement.

The U.N. vote was also welcomed by Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea: “The U.N. General Assembly’s recognition of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders is not an easy matter. This step is the one before the last concerning the recognition of a Palestinian state.”

Former Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss praised the U.N. decision: “It’s true that the U.N. decision did not achieve the Palestinians’ demand for independence and return. However, the decision is extremely important because it entailed a recognition of the Palestinian entity by the highest international authority.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 01, 2012, on page 2.

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