Driving into the Palestinian's main town of Ramallah on the West Bank, past the Israeli outposts and through the Israeli security checks, you're reminded of the facts of Israel's occupation and you ponder the implications of tonight's United Nations vote.

Here the crowds are already gathering to celebrate what they say is a historic day. The United Nations general assembly is almost certain to grant the Palestinians enhanced status, though short of actual statehood. So the Israeli soldiers, checkpoints and Jewish settlements will stay put. On that level nothing will change.

But the bigger the majority in the general assembly, the more vivid the demonstration of international support for the Palestinian cause and Israeli isolation.

Beyond the symbolic, what is the significance of this? The answer depends on how the Palestinians use their upgrade.

If they sign up to the international criminal court, they have the potential to challenge the legality of Jewish settlements.

But the legal route is a two way street: Their own human rights record would come under international legal scrutiny. And those rocket attacks from Gaza would have to stop.

Israel, along with Britain and the US has spent months lobbying against the vote. With defeat now certain, Israel has decided a low key response is best.

Gone, or rather on hold, are the threats to tear up the Oslo peace accords, to increase the pace of settlements, to withhold tax revenues from the Palestinian authority.

'If we bring the Palestinian Authority down, it will only collapse on our head,' is the Israeli rationale, though they reserve the right to take 'punitive' measures if the Palestinians push their diplomatic triumph into legal challenges to the occupation.

The Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, will portray his moment in New York as proof that the path of peaceful resistance can bear fruit. He has been stung by Hamas claims that their eight day air war with Israel gained more concessions than he has in a decade of failed talks.

What the world awaits is a fresh peace initiative from the second term President Obama.

But the omens aren't good. Israel goes to the polls in January and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to lurch further to the right, even less prepared to make concessions.

The vote tonight seems just as likely to set the Palestinians and Israel on a fresh course for confrontation as it is the road to peace.