UN approves Palestinian flag at NY headquarters
General Assembly passes resolution allowing non-member states to raise their flags at UN building in New York; 'It is a symbolic thing, but another step to solidify the pillars of the state of Palestine in the international arena,' says Palestinian envoy.
The UN General Assembly has overwhelmingly approved the Palestinians' proposal to raise their flag, along with that of the Holy See, at UN headquarters - a symbolic step in the Palestinians' pursuit of statehood.
The resolution allows non-member observer states to raise their flags. The Palestinians and the Vatican are the only two observers. The Holy See has backed away from the effort, saying it will not raise its flag before Pope Francis visits the UN later this month.
The Palestinians say they would like President Mahmoud Abbas to raise their flag after he addresses the General Assembly's gathering of world leaders Sept. 30.
The UN says it will be guided by Thursday's non-binding vote. The resolution allows 20 days for implementation.
Only eight countries voted against the proposal: Israel, the US, Canada, Australia, Palau, Micronesia, Tuvalu and the Marshal Islands.
"It is a symbolic thing, but another step to solidify the pillars of the state of Palestine in the international arena," said Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian representative to the UN.
Mansour said the initiative had the potential to "give our people some hope that the international community is still supporting the independence of the state of Palestine.
"Things are bleak, gloomy, the political process is dead, Gaza is being suffocated. This flag resolution is like the small light of a candle to keep hope alive for the Palestinian people."
Both Israel and the United States have expressed strong opposition, with Israel's ambassador to the body Ron Prosor slamming "a blatant attempt to hijack the UN."
Prosor this week accused the Palestinians of trying to "score easy and meaningless points at the UN."
He had asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and General Assembly president Ron Kutesa to block the move, which would break with the UN practice of flying only the flags of member states.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner called it a "counterproductive" attempt to pursue statehood claims outside of a negotiated settlement.
Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are among world leaders converging on UN headquarters from September 25 for an anti-poverty summit and the annual General Assembly debate.
Pope Francis is to make a much-anticipated address on September 25. The Vatican has officially recognized Palestine as a state.
The General Assembly upgraded the status of the Palestinians to that of non-member observer state in 2012.
The Vatican said it would abide by the decision of the General Assembly. But it also noted that the tradition at the United Nations was to fly the flags of full members.
On Wednesday, the Vatican's chief delegate to the United Nations, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, said it was unclear whether the Holy See would choose to fly its flag alongside the Palestinians' at UN headquarters.
"Whether or not the Holy See in the future would raise its flag, that question is open," he said.
Auza, the Vatican's permanent observer at the United Nations, ruled out the possibility that it would let its flag fly at the world body before Pope Francis' speech before a high-level gathering of the General Assembly on Sept. 25.
"We have no intention whatsoever to do that," he said.
Auza added that the Vatican did not co-sponsor the Palestinian resolution "because we have certainly different priorities."
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been comatose since a failed US diplomatic effort in April last year, and a war in the Gaza Strip last summer left 2,200 Palestinians dead.
Reuters contributed to this report.