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Canada joins minority in saying no to Palestinian statehood at UN

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OTTAWA - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird used the podium at the United Nations General Assembly to denounce the world body Thursday for its "utterly regrettable decision" to allow a historic vote on Palestinian statehood.

Baird also suggested Canada will take retaliatory measures against the Palestinians for forcing the statehood issue onto the world stage.

The minister didn't say what Canada was contemplating, but the obvious option would appear to be suspending aid spending to the Palestinians.

U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the political divide threatened Thursday to cut off aid if the Palestinians used their newfound status against Israel.

A senior Canadian official, who would speak only on condition of anonymity, said the government would take "thoughtful and deliberate" action in the coming days.

In a detailed speech, Baird recapped the UN's 65-year efforts to find a peaceful two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

The enduring theme, he argued, was that neither side would take unilateral action as the Palestinians have.

And he appeared to blame the UN for indulging them.

"As a result of this body's utterly regrettable decision to abandon policy and principle, we will be considering all available next steps," Baird told the assembly, after flying to New York to personally register Canada's No vote.

Baird said Canada was voting against the initiative because "we are firmly convinced (it) will undermine the objective of reaching a comprehensive, lasting and just settlement for both sides."

The Palestinians won UN recognition handily: the resolution, which upgrades their status to that of a non-member observer state, was approved by a vote of 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions.

That left Canada in small minority that included Israel and the United States, all of which lobbied hard to block the move as unhelpful to the building of peace in the Middle East.

Baird was among a handful of foreign ministers who addressed the general assembly Thursday, winning a prime speaking slot among a roster of orators that included Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel UN ambassador, Ron Prosor.

Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also jetted to New York for the meeting.

"The path to peace has historically rested in direct negotiations between the two parties to resolve all outstanding issues and it remains the same today. Solutions can only come through the two sides working together," Baird said.

"This resolution will not advance the cause of peace or spur a return to negotiations. Will the Palestinian people be better off as a result? No. On the contrary, this unilateral step will harden positions and raise unrealistic expectations while doing nothing to improve the lives of the Palestinian people."

Baird said Canada was calling on both sides to return to the negotiating table without preconditions.

Most of the General Assembly's 193 countries were expected to support the motion.

Several major countries, including France, have recently said they would support elevating Palestinians from the status of UN observer to non-member observer state.

The Palestinians are calling for UN recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the lands Israel captured in 1967.

They want to be able to resume negotiations with Israel, and say recognition of the 1967 borders of Palestine is meant to salvage a peace deal, not sabotage it, as Israel has charged.

The non-member observer state status could also open the way for possible war crimes charges against the Jewish state at the International Criminal Court.

However, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators warned Thursday they would amend legislation to cut off U.S. aid if the Palestinians used their new status to pursue legal action against Israel in the International Criminal Court.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador the UN, offered a sobering warning to Palestinian supporters to not get too carried away with their victory.

"Progress towards a just and lasting two-state solution cannot be made by pressing a green voting button here in this hall," Rice said in a speech to the assembly after the vote.

"Nor does passing any resolution create a state, where none indeed exits, or change the reality on the ground," she added. "This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state."

Like Baird, Rice said peace can only be achieved if the two sides talk to each other.

"Long after the votes have been cast, long after the speeches have been forgotten, it is the Palestinians and the Israelis who must still talk to each other, and listen to each other, and find a way to live side in the land they share."

— with files from The Associated Press

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