Palestinians on Saturday welcomed a vote by the United Nations General Assembly requesting that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) provide an opinion on the legal consequences of Israel's decades-long occupation of the Palestinian territories.
The Hague-based ICJ, also known as the World Court, is the top UN court dealing with disputes between states. Its rulings are binding, though the ICJ has no power to enforce them.
The vote on Friday nonetheless presents a challenge for Israel's incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took office on Thursday at the head of a hard-right government that includes parties who advocate for occupied West Bank lands to be annexed, as well as for increased illegal settlements in the area.
Israel illegally captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in 1967 following its invasion during the Six-Day war. Peace talks broke down in 2014.
"The time has come for Israel to be a state subject to law, and to be held accountable for its ongoing crimes against our people," Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said.
Israeli officials have not yet issued a comment on the vote. It was criticised by Israel's UN envoy Gilad Erdan before it was held, as the Jewish holiday of Sabbath began.
Meanwhile, senior Palestinian official Hussein al-Sheikh said on Twitter that the vote "reflects the victory of Palestinian diplomacy".
There were 87 members who voted in favour of adopting the request; Israel, its biggest ally the United States and 24 other members voted against; while 53 members abstained.
Palestinians have limited rule in the occupied West Bank, while East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in a move not recognised internationally. Israeli settlements in those territories are also considered illegal by the international community. Moreover, Israeli forces and settlers in the occupied territories routinely subject Palestinians to intimidation, arrests and violence.
Israel has besieged the Gaza Strip since 2007, imposing a blockade that ever since Hamas took control of the enclave. The blockade has been slammed by rights groups as a harsh, collective punishment.
The UN General Assembly asked the ICJ to give an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel's "occupation, settlement and annexation, including measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and from its adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures".
The new, far-right Israeli government has pledged to strengthen its settlements in the West Bank, potentially threatening Palestinian life further.