Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has returned to a hero’s welcome in the West Bank after his successful move to upgrade the Palestinians’ UN status.
“Now we have a state,” Mahmoud Abbas told cheering supporters in Ramallah.
“Palestine has accomplished a historic achievement.”
On Thursday the United Nations General Assembly voted to recognize the Palestinians as an observer state.
In response Israel halted the transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The decision, announced on Sunday by the Israeli finance ministry, means 460 million shekels ($120 million) will be withheld in December.
The Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs in the West Bank, is heavily dependant on tax revenues Israel collects on its behalf.
A ministry spokesman said the money would instead be used to offset the PA’s debts, which include millions owed to Israel’s electricity company.
The Israeli decision was announced as Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas returned to the West Bank from the UN in New York.
He told thousands of flag-waving supporters in Ramallah that the vote to upgrade the Palestinians’ status from “non-member observer entity” to “non-member observer state” had shown the international community stood behind the Palestinian people.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has returned to a hero’s welcome in the West Bank after his successful move to upgrade the Palestinians’ UN status
“The march was a long one, and the pressures were enormous,” Mahmoud Abbas added.
“But we stood fast and we prevailed, because we are the voice of these people.”
Mahmoud Abbas also called for reconciliation between Palestinians – a reference to the split between the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.
On Friday Israel announced it would move ahead with building thousands of new homes in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, in another apparent response to the UN vote.
At a meeting on Sunday, Israel’s cabinet formally rejected the UN’s decision.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the campaign for Palestinian statehood spearheaded by President Mahmoud Abbas “a gross violation of the agreements signed with the state of Israel”, a reference to peace accords signed in the 1990s.
He said that only negotiations with Israel could lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The United Nations General Assembly has voted to grant the Palestinians non-member observer state status – a move opposed by Israel and the US.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the assembly the vote was the “last chance to save the two-state solution” with Israel.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, said the bid “doesn’t advance peace – it pushes it backwards”.
The assembly voted 138-9 in favor, with 41 nations abstaining.
Hundreds of Palestinians celebrated on the streets of Ramallah, in the West Bank, after the result was announced.
“Sixty-five years ago on this day, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 181, which partitioned the land of historic Palestine into two states and became the birth certificate for Israel,” Mahmoud Abbas told the assembly.
“The General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the State of Palestine,” he said.
Ron Prosor said “the only way to reach peace is through agreements” between the parties, not at the UN.
“No decision by the UN can break the 4,000-year-old bond between the people of Israel and the land of Israel,” he said.
Opponents of the bid say a Palestinian state should emerge only out of bilateral negotiations, as set out in the 1993 Oslo peace accords under which the Palestinian Authority was established.
Speaking after the vote, the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, urged the Palestinians and Israel to resume direct peace talks and warned against unilateral actions.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the vote “unfortunate and counter-productive”, saying it put more obstacles on the path to peace.
“By going to the UN, the Palestinians have violated the agreements with Israel and Israel will act accordingly,” said the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Twitter.
The UK abstained from the vote, as did Germany. The Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands and Panama were among the nations voting with the US and Israel.
The Palestinians are seeking UN recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, the lands Israel captured in 1967.
While the move is seen as a symbolic milestone in Palestinian ambitions for statehood, the “Yes” vote will also have a practical diplomatic effect.
It would allow the Palestinians to participate in debates at the UN and improve their chances of joining UN agencies and bodies like the International Criminal Court.
Last year, Mahmoud Abbas asked the UN Security Council to admit the Palestinians as a member state, but that was opposed by the US.
Mahmoud Abbas was much criticized by many Palestinians for remaining on the sidelines of the conflict earlier this month in Gaza and efforts to achieve a ceasefire with Israel.
His Fatah movement, based in the West Bank, is deeply split from the militant Hamas movement which governs Gaza.
Gaza’s Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh said in a statement that Hamas’ “support for the UN bid is based on the <<rule of non-recognition of the occupier>>… and the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland”.