U.N. Slaps Down Israel, U.S.

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NEW YORK: Israel has a new friend at the United Nations: the Marshall Islands. The government of the tiny string of Pacific atolls (pop. 58,000) on Tuesday joined Israel's lonely stalwarts -- the United States and Micronesia -- in voting no to upgrading Palestinian status from observer to nonvoting member. "There's an overwhelming feeling in the U.N. that the Palestinians should have their own state," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "In trying to block that, the U.S. finds itself completely isolated, in an almost untenable position."

The 124-4 vote (with 10 abstentions) accords the Palestinians the unique status of nonvoting member of the General Assembly, giving them the right to speak and cosponsor resolutions. More importantly for Yasser Arafat, it signals overwhelming international support for his planned declaration of independence next year. But if international consensus counted for anything in the Middle East, the state of Palestine would be two decades old. The decisions that count are made in Washington, where Palestinian statehood still remains a taboo topic.