Euphoric Palestinians erupted in cheers, set off fireworks and chanted "God is great" after the United Nations endorsed an independent state of Palestine, giving sweeping international backing to their demands for sovereignty over lands Israel occupied in 1967.
The historic General Assembly decision Thursday to accept "Palestine" as a non-member observer state wonít actually grant independence to the 4.3 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
Israel remains an occupying force in those first two territories and continues to severely restrict access to Gaza, ruled by the Hamas militant group. Nor does it plaster over the rift in the Palestinian leadership that has led to the emergence of duelling governments in the West Bank and Gaza.
But by gaining approval at a world forum overwhelmingly sympathetic to their quest, Palestinians hope to make it harder for Israel to resist global pressure to negotiate the borders of a future Palestine based on lines Israel held before capturing the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza in 1967.
The massive international recognition of the Palestiniansí right to a state ó only nine of 193 General Assembly members voted against it ó gave them hope that the tide had turned in their favour.
"Itís a great feeling to have a state, even if in name only," said civil servant Mohammed Srour, 28, standing in a flag-waving a crowd of more than 2,000 packed into a square in the West Bank city of Ramallah late Thursday. "The most beautiful dream of any man is to have an independent state, particularly for us Palestinians who have lived under occupation for a long time."
But even though the resolution did not immediately change their lives, Palestinians say the recognition isnít just symbolic. They believe it will strengthen their hand in any future talks with Israel, which has attacked the Palestinian move as an attempt to bypass such negotiations.
The international communityís warm embrace was meant, in part, to shore up the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, whose domestic standing had been hurt by his failure to deliver a state through negotiations during his eight years at the helm. European powers that Israel had hoped would oppose the statehood bid either supported it or abstained.
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