Euphoric Palestinians erupted in cheers, honked car horns and chanted “God is great” after the United Nations endorsed an independent state of Palestine.
The vote gave sweeping international backing to their demands for sovereignty over lands Israel occupied in 1967.
The historic General Assembly decision to accept “Palestine” as a non-member observer state will not actually grant independence to the 4.3 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
Israel remains an occupying force in the first two territories and continues to severely restrict access to Gaza, ruled by the Hamas militant group. Nor does the vote plaster over the rift in the Palestinian leadership that has led to the emergence of duelling governments in the West Bank and Gaza.
But by gaining approval at a world forum overwhelmingly sympathetic to their quest, Palestinians hope to make it harder for Israel to resist global pressure to negotiate the borders of a future Palestine based on lines Israel held before capturing the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza in 1967.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the UN vote as meaningless and accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of delivering a “defamatory and venomous” UN speech “full of mendacious propaganda” against Israel.
Mr Netanyahu argued that the UN move violated past agreements between Israel and the Palestinians and that Israel would act accordingly, without saying what steps it might take.
The massive international recognition of the Palestinians’ right to a state – only nine of 193 General Assembly members voted against it – gave them hope that the tide had turned in their favour.
“It’s a great feeling to have a state, even if in name only,” said civil servant Mohammed Srour, 28, standing in a flag-waving a crowd of more than 2,000 packed into a square in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“The most beautiful dream of any man is to have an independent state.”
Hamas, once shunned internationally for its campaign of violence against Israel, has seen its isolation ease in recent months, as Islamists gain power across the region.