Riyad Mansour
Riyad MansourUN Multimedia

The Palestinian Authority voted for the first time at the UN General Assembly Monday and claimed the moment as a new step in its quest for full recognition as a country, AFP reports.   

Most of the 193 members of the General Assembly stood in applause when Palestinian Authority Ambassador Riyad Mansour cast a vote for a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. 

The Palestinian Authority became an observer member of the United Nations on November 29 last year. At the time, 138 countries voted in favor of the PA bid, nine countries voted against it, and 41 countries abstained. The PA cannot vote on UN resolutions, but under UN rules, it and other observers such as the Vatican can vote in elections for judges on international courts.

"This is an important step in our march for freedom and independence and full membership of the United Nations," Mansour told the assembly. "I think that this is a very, very special moment in the history of the struggle of the Palestinian people at the United Nations. It is another step for strengthening the pillars of the state of Palestine in the international arena," he added.

Mansour acknowledged it was a "symbolic" vote, but said: "It is an important one because it reflects that the international community, particularly the General Assembly, is hungry and waiting for the state of Palestine to become a full member of the United Nations."   

The envoy said the "overwhelming reaction" when the assembly applauded as he voted was a sign that countries want the Palestinians in the United Nations.  "I felt so proud ... that on behalf of all the Palestinian people, and our leadership, that I was privileged to have that special moment, of putting on
behalf of our entire nation that ballot in the box."

Israeli Deputy UN Ambassador David Roet complained to the meeting that Mansour should have celebrated the vote outside the assembly and was "trying
to hijack" attention at the election.

"Israel maintains its position that the Palestinian Authority is not a state and the Palestinian Authority fails to meet the criteria for statehood," Roet affirmed. 

Israel and the United States have lobbied strongly against UN recognition of the Palestinians, arguing that a separate state can only be achieved through direct bilateral negotiations to end the decades old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But the Palestinian Authority has joined UNESCO, the UN cultural agency, and voted there, in addition to winning historic observer recognition in the UN General Assembly.