Wednesday was a big day for Palestine as its flag was raised for the first time at the UN. Last month, the UN General Assembly had voted on this and the resolution was backed by 119 nations.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas presided over the packed ceremony in the rose garden and the crowd broke out into cheers when the flag started to flutter in the breeze.
“In this historical moment, I say to my people everywhere: raise the flag of Palestinians very high because it is the symbol of our identity…It is a proud day,” 80-year-old Abbas told the crowd.
On September 10, the General Assembly voted to allow the flags of Palestine and the Vatican to be raised at the world body alongside those of member states. The resolution was backed by 119 countries, with 45 abstentions and 8 votes were cast against the resolution. Those who objected to the raising of the flag included Israel, US and Australia.
“Now is the time to restore confidence by both Israelis and Palestinians for a peaceful settlement and, at last, the realization of two states for two peoples…This is a day of pride for Palestinians around the world. It is a day of hope,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.
Israel and the US dismissed the move as a symbolic gesture that would not serve the cause of peace. But Ban Ki-moon differed.
“It is reminder that symbols are important – and that a symbol can lead to action in the right direction”, Ban Ki-moon said.
Several people gathered in the West Bank town of Ramallah to watch the flag-raising via a TV link.
President Abbas picked the occasion to call on the world body to grant them full membership in his speech at the UNGA. Palestine and Vatican enjoy only an observer status at the UN.
Abbas appealed to “Those countries that have not yet recognized the state of Palestine yet, to do so.”
“Palestine, which is an observer state in the United Nations, deserves full recognition and full membership,” Abbas said.
In his speech, Abbas also accused Israel of not committing to the peace agreements of the Oslo Accord. Abbas warned that Palestinians “cannot continue to be bound by these agreements” and that there might be another armed uprising.
“We therefore declare that we cannot continue to be bound by these agreements (Oslo Accords) and that Israel must assume all of its responsibilities as an occupying power, because the status quo cannot continue,” Abbas said.
“I call on the Israeli government to cease its use of brutal force… particularly its actions at the Al-Aqsa mosque…Such actions will convert the conflict from a political one to a religious one, thus creating a explosive situation in Jerusalem and the remaining Palestinian occupied territory” Abbas told the General Assembly in a fiery speech.
(With inputs from agencies)