Palestine Poised to Win UN Vote

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Palestine Wins Statehood Status
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Palestine Wins Statehood Status (ABC News)

The U.N. General Assembly vote to approve Palestinians' request to be upgraded to a "non-member observer state" is taking place right now.

Of the 193 countries in the General Assembly 132 have already recognized Palestine, so the request has a good chance of passing, despite the efforts of the United States and Israel to stop it.

The historic vote would recognize Palestine as a state and give Palestine the right to join U.N. agencies, and could become a party to the International Criminal Court, allowing them to bring cases against Israel.

Israel and the U.S. argue that the vote is purely symbolic, will change nothing on the ground, will hurt peace talks and could affect U.S. funding.

President Obama and other U.S. officials have repeatedly called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to abandon the bid. The U.S. maintains that only direct Palestinian negotiations with Israel can bring about any real solution. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated this Wednesday, saying the road to peace runs through Jerusalem and Ramallah not New York.

"We have made very clear to the Palestinian leadership -- you know I met with President Abbas just last week -- that we oppose Palestinian efforts to upgrade their status at the U.N. outside of the framework of negotiations to achieve a two-state solution," Clinton said, "because no matter what happens at the United Nations, it will not produce the outcome that this government, this president and certainly I strongly support."

While the U.S. has been working diplomatic channels furiously over the last few months to keep this from happening, the vote today still falls short of triggering the law in Congress that automatically cuts all U.S. aid to Palestinian Authority and any programs in the Palestinian Territories, as well as aid to any organizations that recognize Palestine as a state. Non-member observer status falls short of being as being accepted as a "member state," which would allows Palestine to have full voting rights in the UN General Assembly, something Congress is vehemently opposed to if done outside of talks with Israel. South Sudan was the last country to enter the UN as a member state after it gained independence.

But if the vote passes, the measure will put the Palestinians on that path, bypassing Israel all together, and will be considered a diplomatic set-back for the United States and Israel.

While Canada supports the United States and Israel, the Palestinians have the backing of most of Europe, notably France. The United Kingdom has said it could abstain today.

Secretary Clinton spoke about the difference the U.S. has with our European Allies over this issue at a speech she gave today at the Brookings Institute. She noted that though Europe and the United States are strong allies, they do not always agree on every issue.

"Just today in fact a number of EU member states are likely to take a different position from us on a measure at the UN General Assembly granting observer state status to the Palestinian authority. The United States opposes the resolution, which we believe will do nothing to advance the peace and the two-state solution we all want to see," Clinton said. "At the same time we and our European partners agree on the most fundamental issues and share a common objective, two states living side by side in peace and security."

There have been celebrations, speeches and marches across the West Bank and Gaza today. Meanwhile in Israel, there's a lot of analysis in the press and much of it concludes that this is a significant failure by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Retiring Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Barak addressed the vote in his press conference with Secretary Panetta, calling the move by Palestinian leadership "a mistake" that will ultimately not help negotiations with Israel. Barak said that the right, and only path, to a lasting peace is for negotiations between the two sides to resume following Israel's elections next year. Despite the tension and recent violence in Gaza, which is not controlled by the Palestinian Authority, the minister expressed hope that peace can be achieved if both Israel and the Palestinians are realistic and committed to working out a solution.

"There is a common need of both people in the long term to find a way beyond all these symbolic steps, and of course [the vote] is a symbolic step that will resonate with the wishes of many Palestinians, but to go beyond symbolic steps into the reality of having to make painful and tough decisions on both sides because…the way to solve our conflict is quite clear to a majority of Palestinians, a majority of Israelis…and should be dealt with in a sincere manner."

In a Gallup poll in February, Americans favored rather than opposed the establishment of an independent Palestinian state by a 14 point margin, 51 vs. 37 percent. The rest had no opinion.

ABC News' Sarah Parnass and ABC Pollster Gary Langer contributed to this report.

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