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The Palestinians voted for the first time at the UN General Assembly Monday and claimed the moment as a new step in its quest for full recognition by the global body.
Most of the 193 members of the General Assembly stood in applause when Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour cast a vote for a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
The Palestinians became observer members of the United Nations on November 29 last year. It cannot vote on UN resolutions, but under UN rules, it and other observers such as the Vatican can vote in elections for judges on international courts.
"This is an important step in our march for freedom and independence and full membership of the United Nations," Mansour told the assembly.
Israel accused the Palestinians of trying to "hijack" the vote. But afterwards, Mansour told reporters: "I think that this is a very, very special moment in the history of the struggle of the Palestinian people at the United Nations."
"It is another step for strengthening the pillars of the state of Palestine in the international arena," he added.
Mansour acknowledged it was a "symbolic" vote, but said: "It is an important one because it reflects that the international community, particularly the General Assembly, is hungry and waiting for the state of Palestine to become a full member of the United Nations."
The envoy said the "overwhelming reaction" when the assembly applauded as he voted was a sign that countries want the Palestinians in the United Nations.
"I felt so proud ... that on behalf of all the Palestinian people, and our leadership, that I was privileged to have that special moment, of putting on behalf of our entire nation that ballot in the box."
Israeli Deputy UN Ambassador David Roet complained to the meeting that Mansour should have celebrated the vote outside the assembly and was "trying to hijack" attention at the election.
"Israel maintains its position that the Palestinian Authority is not a state and the Palestinian Authority fails to meet the criteria for statehood," added Roet, who insisted that the Palestinian vote did not change its statehood bid.
Israel and the United States have lobbied strongly against UN recognition of the Palestinians, arguing that a separate state can only be achieved through direct bilateral negotiations to end the decades old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But the Palestinians have joined UNESCO, the UN cultural agency, and voted there, in addition to winning historic observer recognition in the UN General Assembly.
The United States has sought to revive direct Mideast peace talks that resumed in July after a three-year freeze the Palestinians blamed on Israel's settlement expansion.
Since the contacts restarted, Israel has announced plans to build thousands of new settler homes in the occupied West Bank -- territory the Palestinians want for their future state.
Asked whether the United States or Israel had objected to their vote in the UN assembly, Mansour said: "They can't. This is a very crystal clear case."
The Palestinians have sought to become an observer member of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute, which organizes the International Criminal Court. The assembly is to meet in The Hague this week.
The United States blocked the move even though it is not a a formal member of the court, diplomats said.
"The United States said this was not acceptable -- they refused," according to one UN diplomat.
"It would have been a step too far for the Americans. They can cause problems even though they are not members," added a second diplomat who confirmed the move.