The vote benefits the Palestinians on many levels. Domestically, it gives embattled President Mahmoud Abbas a boost in his rivalry with the Hamas militant group, which rules the Gaza Strip. The vote also opens the door to the Palestinians joining U.N. agencies, most critically the International Criminal Court, where they could use their newfound status to press for war crimes charges against Israel for military operations and construction of Jewish settlements on occupied territories. On the downside, the vote does not change the situation on the ground — a point Israelis have repeatedly stressed in an effort to blunt any appearance of defeat.
The vote amounts to a massive international show of displeasure with Israel, particularly over its continued construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Moving forward, the resolution could weaken Israeli claims to keeping parts of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, the section of the holy city claimed by both sides for their capitals.
The vote appears to reflect the world's frustration over President Barack Obama's failure to get Israel and the Palestinians to start talking. During his first term, Obama initially spoke out strongly against Israeli settlements and even coaxed Netanyahu into a partial freeze on settlement construction. But after that freeze expired, Netanyahu rejected Obama's calls to extend it and Obama dropped the matter. Obama will likely face international pressure to make another diplomatic push in the region.
The Islamic militant group, which rules the Gaza Strip, has been emboldened by the performance of its forces in fighting against Israel this month. Thursday's vote could put pressure on Hamas to reconcile with Abbas. Hamas lined up behind Abbas' U.N. bid, after criticizing it earlier.