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Palestinians in ICC membership move

Stung by a resounding defeat at the UN Security Council, the Palestinians have announced that they have joined the International Criminal Court to pursue war crimes charges against Israel.

The move by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas sets the stage for a diplomatic showdown with the United States 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.

Tuesday's defeat at the UN Security Council further raised pressure on Mr Abbas to act.

"We want to complain. There's aggression against us, against our land. The Security Council disappointed us," Mr Abbas said as he gathered a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank.

Mr Abbas had threatened to join the international court if the Security Council resolution failed. 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.

Mr Abbas has been threatening to join the court since 2012, but held off under American and Israeli pressure. 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," 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."

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