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UN General Assembly Overwhelmingly Affirms Palestinian Sovereignty Over W. Bank, Gaza, E. Jerusalem - 2004-05-07

The U.N. General Assembly has overwhelmingly approved a non-binding resolution affirming Palestinian sovereignty over the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The United States and Israel were among a handful of countries voting against the measure.

The vote was 140 - 6, with 11 abstentions. Four Pacific island nations - Nauru, Palau, the Marshal Islands and Micronesia - joined the United States and Israel in opposition.

The measure approved Thursday, declares that the status of all Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 remains one of military occupation. It affirms the right of Palestinian people to sovereignty over the territory.

European Union countries voted en masse for the resolution. An EU spokesman said the measure reaffirms the position outlined by the quartet of Middle East peace mediators at a meeting this week.

The quartet - comprising the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union - issued a statement saying all so-called final status issues must be decided through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Final status issues include the question of sovereignty over disputed territory.

But in casting his 'no' vote, deputy U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham said the resolution flies in the face of the Quartet's statement.

"The Quartet noted that no party should take unilateral actions that seek to predetermine issues that can only be resolved through negotiation and agreement between the two parties," he said. "Any final settlement on issues such as borders and refugees must be mutually agreed to by Israelis and Palestinians."

Russia also voted for the measure, leaving the United States alone among members of the quartet in opposition.

Israel's ambassador Dan Gillerman ridiculed the Assembly's vote. He described the resolution as farcical and a contradiction of this week's Quartet statement.

"This resolution totally ignores the Quartet statement made two days ago and violates the central tenet of the peace process reiterated in the Quartet statement to avoid prejudging the outcome of negotiations," said Israel's Ambassador.

In arguing for the resolution, Palestinian representative Nasser al-Kidwa said it was needed to prevent an attempt by Israel to confer legitimacy on its settlements in occupied territory.

"The choice now is between the rule of international law or attempts to impose a de facto illegal situation," said Nasser al-Kidwa. "It is between a real two-state solution, a real state of Palestine in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem or the imprisonment of the Palestinian people. "

Experts say because it is non-binding, the General Assembly resolution will have little effect on peacemaking efforts. But European diplomats said after the vote it would be necessary to reconcile the apparent split among Quartet members before pushing ahead with the Road Map peace initiative.