Mahmoud Abbas has said the Palestinians will join the International Criminal Court – a move that sets the stage for filing a war crimes case against Israel.
The Palestinian president made the announcement in the West Bank, a day after the UN Security Council failed to pass a resolution that had aimed to set a deadline for Israel to end its occupation of territories sought by the Palestinians.
Mr Abbas had warned that if the resolution failed, he would resume a Palestinian campaign to join international organisations to put pressure on Israel.
His decision is expected to trigger a harsh response from Israel.
Israel says all disputes should be resolved through peace talks, and such actions are aimed at bypassing negotiations.
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,” US Ambassador Samantha Power said.
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” and did not take into account Israel’s security concerns.
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. Its ambassador, U Joy Ogwu, echoed the US position saying the ultimate path to peace lies “in a negotiated solution”.
The Palestinians could point to support from two European nations, France and Luxembourg, reflecting the growing impatience especially in Europe over the lack of progress in achieving a two-state solution, and the increasing pressure on governments to do something to end the decades-old conflict.
This impatience, and frustration over the Security Council’s paralysis in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was echoed by many on the council, including the US.
Jordan’s UN Ambassador Dina Kawar, the Arab representative on the council, said after the vote: “The fact that this draft resolution was not adopted will not at all prevent us from proceeding to push the international community, specifically the United Nations, towards an effective involvement to achieving a resolution to this conflict.”
Before the vote, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians can return again to the Security Council, which will have five new members starting tomorrow who are viewed as more sympathetic to their cause.
Israel’s image and its standing, especially in Europe, have come under increasing pressure as a result of this summer’s Gaza war and its refusal to halt settlement building.
Mr Abbas found himself under pressure at home to proceed with a UN vote and to take other measures after months of unrest with Israel.
Pressure increased earlier this month after a Palestinian minister died from a heart attack after scuffling with Israeli security forces in the West Bank at a protest against settlements.
That incident came after months of tensions that included the collapse of the latest round of US-backed peace talks, a 50-day war between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, Israeli security measures that restricted Muslim access to a revered holy site in Jerusalem and a spate of Palestinian attacks that killed 11 people.
The violence seems to have mostly subsided in recent weeks but attacks persist.