By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A routine U.N. General Assembly vote held special significance for the Palestinian delegation on Monday as it cast a ballot for the first time, an act the Palestinian envoy said brought his nation a step closer to full U.N. membership.
The chief Palestinian U.N. observer, Ambassador Riyad Mansour, participated in the 193-nation assembly's election of a judge for the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Koffi Kumelio Afande of Togo was elected to the court.
It was the first time the Palestinians cast a vote since their U.N. status was upgraded a year ago this month to "non-member state" from "entity," like the Vatican. The vote has been perceived as a de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood.
"This is a very, very special moment in the history of the struggle of the Palestinian people at the United Nations," Mansour told a small group of reporters.
"It's a symbolic (step)," he said. "But it is an important one because it reflects that the international community, particularly the General Assembly, is hungry and waiting for the state of Palestine to become a full member of the United Nations."
The upgrade of the Palestinians' status last year came after an attempt to secure full U.N. membership failed because of U.S. resistance in the Security Council, where Washington made clear it would use its veto power to block the Palestinian bid.
But no country has veto power in the General Assembly, which is why the Palestinians had no trouble securing status as a non-member state. The status upgrade allows them to participate in some assembly votes and join some international organizations.
The Palestinians have threatened to use their new U.N. status to accede to a number of international organizations and possibly sign the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The Palestinians have not joined the ICC yet. In 2011, however, they joined UNESCO, the U.N. education, science and culture agency, which led Washington and Israel to cut off funding to the Paris-based organization in protest.
Earlier this month, UNESCO suspended the voting rights of the United States and Israel.
Mansour said he hopes the Palestinians will become full members of the United Nations soon, though the United States have not indicated it has any plan to drop its opposition to that idea.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)