Israel downplays U.N. vote to boost Palestinian status

UNITED NATIONS — Israel is downplaying the significance of a resolution passed this week in the U.N. General Assembly that gives Palestinians additional rights in the world body.

Speaking after less than an hour of discussion and a 124-4 vote on Tuesday, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Dore Gold, called the resolution's passage an "empty success" for the Palestinians.

For their part, the Palestinians called it a "small victory" and said they looked forward to full-state status in the future.

The Arab-sponsored resolution grants the Palestinians the right to participate in the General Assembly's general debate and the right to co-sponsor draft resolutions and decisions on Palestinian and Middle East issues, among other privileges.

But the Palestinians are excluded from the right to vote or to put forward candidates for U.N. committees.

The curtailing of some of the Palestinians' demands, Gold said, resulted from U.S. and European Union pressure — which he said Israel considers a friend despite its support for the resolution.

He stressed that the Palestinians retain their status as an observer mission, which was first granted to the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1974.

"There has been a change in small technicalities," Gold said in a brief interview after the vote, "and that's all."

In the resolution that was approved, the Palestinians are only allowed to co-sponsor measures, and only on topics relating to the Middle East. In addition, any such measure can only be voted upon at the request of a member state.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the U.N. resolution: "They achieved certain improvements, which are far from what they had wanted."

The United States, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia joined Israel in opposing the resolution. Ten countries abstained from voting.

During Tuesday's session, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, told the assembly that "supporting unilateral gestures, which will raise suspicion and mistrust between negotiating partners, will not take us closer to our goal."