U.S. ambassador Susan Rice applauds Israeli a
U.S. ambassador Susan Rice applauds Israeli aAFP photo

The Hamas terror group, which controls Gaza, welcomed on Thursday the UN General Assembly's vote to grant the Palestinian Authority upgraded non-member observer state status, calling it a "victory."

U.S. Secretary of State Clinton and UN ambassador Susan Rice condemned the move, which passed with an overwhelming majority of 138-9, with 41 countries abstaining.

"This is a new victory on the road to the liberation of Palestine and return and we congratulate ourselves," senior Hamas official Ahmed Yussef told AFP.

"We in Hamas consider this a shared achievement that casts joy on our people," he added.

Until this week, the Hamas leadership in Gaza had been opposed to the bid for upgraded status led by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the rival Palestinian faction Fatah.

But after Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal expressed public support for the bid, along with other members of the leadership-in-exile, the Gaza government offered its own tepid backing.

It allowed rallies backing the request to go ahead in Gaza on Thursday, though there was little evidence that its own members were participating, reported AFP.

Hamas official in exile Izzat al-Rishq, writing on his Facebook page on Friday, also praised the General Assembly vote.

"We welcome the decision of the UN General Assembly to grant Palestine non-member observer state status, and we consider this to be a gain for our people, although Palestine deserves more than that," he wrote.

Hamas had in the past criticized the bid as a unilateral move, taken by Abbas without consultation with all the political movements in the PA.

The about-face on the issue has led to speculation that the terror group could be ready for another round of reconciliation talks with Abbas's Fatah movement.

The two factions signed a reconciliation deal in late April 2011 in Cairo, pledging to set aside years of bitter enmity, form a consensus interim government and work towards presidential and legislative elections within a year.

Implementation of the deal has stalled, however, with the two sides failing to agree on the make-up of the interim government and the promised elections never taking place.

Clinton, meanwhile, criticized the UN General Assembly's vote to implicitly recognize a Palestinian state. She called it an "unfortunate and counterproductive" move that places more obstacles in the path to peace.

"We have been clear that only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and Israelis achieve the peace they both deserve: two states for two people with a sovereign, viable independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel," Clinton said in a speech in Washington on foreign policy trends.

American ambassador Rice said the joy in the Palestinian Authority would be short-lived.

"Today's grand announcements will soon fade and the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow to find little of their lives has changed, save (that) the prospects of a durable peace have receded," she said.

"This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state," she said, echoing an earlier speech by the ambassador to Israel, Ron Prosor. "Today's vote should not be misconstrued by any as constituting eligibility for UN membership."

Rice said that "only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and the Israelis achieve the peace that both deserve."

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, whose country also voted against the resolution, accused the UN of abandoning principles to give the PA upgraded status, and hinted Canada will retaliate.

The Globe and Mail reported that Baird took a prominent role in a debate before the vote, providing a direct and lengthy argument against the PA bid, and serving as a staunch ally to the Israeli government’s interests.

“This resolution will not advance the cause of peace or spur a return to negotiations. Will the Palestinian people be better off as a result? No,” Baird said, according to The Globe and Mail. “On the contrary, this unilateral step will harden positions and raise unrealistic expectations while doing nothing to improve the lives of the Palestinian people.”

Baird’s speech argued that the UN itself has repeatedly endorsed the rule that the only path to Middle East peace comes through negotiations – and that accepting the Palestinian Authority as a “non-member observer state” breaches that principle.

“It is for these reasons that Canada is voting against this resolution,” Baird said. “As a result of this body’s utterly regrettable decision to abandon policy and principle, we will be considering all available next steps.”

Baird provided no indication of how Canada would retaliate against Abbas, though his remarks hinted at that. He also did not say whether the retaliation will come in the form of small, symbolic measures, or more drastic steps, like expelling the PA representative in Ottawa or cutting off aid.

Canada had provided $300 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority over the past five years, noted The Globe and Mail. Though this sum is not as crucial as larger sums from the U.S., the money does matter to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.

In addition to Israel, the U.S. and Canada, the following countries voted against the PA bid: The Czech Republic, Panama, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau.