The move by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sets the stage for a diplomatic showdown with the US and is likely to draw an angry response from Israel.
Mr Abbas has been under heavy domestic pressure to take action against Israel following months of tensions fuelled by the collapse of US-brokered peace talks, a 50-day war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, a spate of deadly Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets, and Israeli restrictions on Palestinian access to a key Muslim holy site in Jerusalem.
“We want to complain. There’s aggression against us, against our land. The security council disappointed us,” Abbas said as he gathered a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank.
The Palestinians had asked the council to set a three-year deadline for Israel to withdraw from all occupied lands claimed by the Palestinians.
After two decades of failed on-again, off-again peace talks, the Palestinians have grown disillusioned and decided to seek international recognition of their independence in the absence in various global bodies.
While the campaign does not change the situation on the ground, the Palestinians believe the strong international support will put pressure on Israel to allow the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
Israel, which captured the three areas in 1967, says Palestinian independence can only be reached through negotiations. It opposes the Palestinian diplomatic campaign as an attempt to bypass negotiations.
The Palestinian campaign scored a major victory in 2012 when Palestine was admitted to the UN General Assembly as a non-member observer state. This upgraded status gave the Palestinians the authority to join dozens of international treaties and agencies.
Still, turning to the International Criminal Court marks a major policy shift by transforming Mr Abbas’ relations with Israel from tense to openly hostile.
The Palestinians can use the court to challenge the legality of Israeli settlement construction on occupied lands and to pursue war crimes charges connected to military activity.
The resolution vote was a blow to an Arab campaign to get the UN’s most powerful body to take action to achieve an independent state of Palestine.
The US, Israel’s closest ally, had made clear its opposition to the draft resolution, insisting on a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, not an imposed timetable.
It would have used its veto if necessary, but did not have to because the resolution failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes required for adoption by the 15-member council.
The resolution received eight “yes” votes, two “no” votes — one from the US and the other from Australia — and five abstentions.
“We voted against this resolution not because we are comfortable with the status quo. We voted against it because... peace must come from hard compromises that occur at the negotiating table,” said US ambassador Samantha Power.
She criticised the decision to bring the draft resolution to a vote as a “staged confrontation that will not bring the parties closer”.
And she added that the resolution was “deeply unbalanced”.
Until shortly before the vote, council diplomats had expected the resolution to get nine yes votes.
But Nigeria, which was believed to support the resolution, abstained.