Palestinian officials welcomed on Saturday the approval by the United Nations General Assembly of a resolution requesting the International Court of Justice weigh in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli “annexation” and the “legal status of the occupation.”
Meanwhile, Israel was said to be happy that the number of countries voting in favor of the resolution was lower than had been initially feared.
The resolution promoted by the Palestinians passed on Friday with a vote tally of 87 in favor, 26 against and 53 abstentions.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, called for Israel to abide by the ruling on its “crimes.”
“The time has come for Israel to be a law-abiding state and bear responsibility for crimes against our people,” said Abu Rudeinah, according to the Ynet news site.
“We believe that justice based on decisions with international legitimacy and the absence of impunity is the only way to achieve permanent and lasting peace in Palestine, Israel and the entire region,” Abu Rudeinah said.
A top adviser to Abbas praised the PA president for the “victory,” saying he’d refused to back down under pressure.
“The vote of the UNGA and the support of 87 countries requesting a legal advisory opinion from the ICJ on the nature of occupation in the occupied Palestinian territories reflects the victory of Palestinian diplomacy, led by the president, who was pressured to withdraw or postpone the decision, but he refused,” tweeted Fatah Secretary-General Hussein al-Sheikh, seen as a leading candidate to replace Abbas.
“Thank you to our supportive brothers and friends,” he added.
There was no formal response from Israel as the vote was held during Shabbat.
However, Kan news said Foreign Ministry officials viewed the vote as something of an achievement for Israel, as the number of votes in favor had fallen since an initial committee ballot on the matter in November.
“We are satisfied with the achievement despite the loss in the vote — there was a change [in vote] from many countries, and this is a message for the continuation of the process,” said the unnamed officials. The report cited as an example the United Kingdom’s switch from a previous abstention on the matter to opposition.
Former prime minister Yair Lapid had waged a diplomatic campaign against the measure, contacting over 50 world leaders, to muster opposition to the vote.
Israel, the US, the UK, Australia, Austria, Canada, Germany and Italy voted against Friday’s resolution.
China, Iran, Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Russia and Saudi Arabia were among those voting in favor, along with Muslim or Arab states with which Israel has relations including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Azerbaijan.
France, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland abstained.
Some members of the 193-nation assembly, including Ukraine, did not cast a vote. Kyiv’s support for the resolution in the committee vote earlier this year sparked a diplomatic spat between Ukraine and Israel.
Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman slammed the vote Saturday morning, saying it showed that Israel cannot rely on the international community.
“A despicable decision that must be roundly condemned was passed tonight at the UN. This is further proof that the State of Israel will not be able to trust the international institutions at the moment of truth,” Liberman tweeted.
“This decision is the epitome of hypocrisy and injustice,” he wrote.
The resolution is titled “Israeli practices and settlement activities affecting the rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the occupied territories” and calls on the Hague-based ICJ to “render urgently an advisory opinion” on Israel’s “prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of Palestinian territory.”
It also calls for an investigation into Israeli measures “aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem” and says Israel has adopted “discriminatory legislation and measures.”
The resolution demands the court weigh in on the conflict in accordance with international law and the UN charter.
The ICJ, also known as the World Court, is the top UN court for mediating disputes between countries. Its rulings are binding and influence public opinion but it has no mechanism for enforcement. The court is separate from the International Criminal Court, which is also in The Hague.
The court last issued an advisory opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2004 when the General Assembly asked it to rule on the legality of the security barrier Israel built along much of the West Bank.
Friday’s resolution demanded Israel comply with that ruling. Israel has said the barrier is a security measure meant to prevent Palestinian attackers from reaching Israeli cities. The Palestinians say the structure is an Israeli land grab because of its route through East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.
The UN has a long history of passing resolutions against Israel, and Israel and the US accuse it of bias. Israel has accused the Palestinians, who have nonmember observer state status at the UN, of trying to use the world body to circumvent peace negotiations and impose a settlement.
Israel has blasted the resolution as biased and dismissive of Israeli security concerns.
Earlier Friday, Israeli ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan denounced the UN for the resolution, calling it a “moral stain” on the world body. He has argued that the vote delegitimizes and demonizes Israel, including by referring to the Temple Mount only by its Arabic name, Haram al-Sharif.
The Temple Mount is the holiest place for Jews as the site of the ancient temples, and the third holiest site in Islam as the location of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Erdan did not appear at the vote because it took place after the start of Shabbat. A US representative voted against the resolution on behalf of Israel.
“No international body can decide that the Jewish people are ‘occupiers’ in their own homeland. Any decision from a judicial body which receives its mandate from the morally bankrupt and politicized UN is completely illegitimate,” Erdan said in a Friday statement. “The Palestinians have rejected every peace initiative while supporting and inciting terror. Instead of pushing the Palestinians to change, the UN is doing the opposite: helping them to harm the only vibrant democracy in the Middle East.
“The decision to hold a vote that deals with Israel on Shabbat is another example of the moral decay of the UN, which prevents Israel’s position from being heard in a vote whose results are predetermined,” he said.
Israel’s new hardline government, sworn in on Thursday, is likely to further stoke tensions with the UN and the international community. The UN secretary-general’s office and the UN Human Rights Council did not respond to a request for comment on the new government and its policies toward the Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s government is expected to entrench Israel’s control over the West Bank. His coalition deals included a vague commitment to annex the territory to Israel at some point, a pledge to legalize dozens of unauthorized settlements, and the provision of large funds for road building and public transport in the West Bank.
“The Jewish people have an exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel. The government will promote and develop the settlement of all parts of the Land of Israel — in the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan and Judea and Samaria,” the government’s overall published agenda said. Judea and Samaria are the biblical names for the West Bank.
There is no specific mention of the Palestinians or the peace process in the guidelines, which say only that “the government will work to promote peace with all our neighbors while preserving Israel’s security, historical and national interests.”
AP contributed to this report.