Memo from Abbas: P.A. now officially state of Palestine

ramallah, west bank  |  With U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state in his pocket, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wants official documents to carry a new emblem: “State of Palestine.”

But scrapping the old Palestinian Authority logo is as far as Abbas is willing to go in provoking Israel. He is not rushing to change passports and the ID cards Palestinians need to pass through Israeli border crossings.

In late November, Abbas won overwhelming U.N. General Assembly recognition for a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. Recognition, however, has not transformed the day-to-day lives of Palestinians, and some argue that it made things worse. In apparent retaliation for the U.N. bid, Israel in December withheld its monthly $100 million transfer of tax rebates it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, further deepening the Abbas government’s financial crisis.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in December after winning U.N. vote. photo/ap-nasser shiyoukhi

Since the United Nations recognition, Abbas has maneuvered between avoiding confrontation with Israel and finding small ways to change the situation on the ground.

Last week, his government press office urged journalists to refer to a state of Palestine, instead of the Palestinian Authority, the autonomy government set up two decades ago as part of interim peace deals with Israel.

Palestinian diplomatic missions around the world have been told to use the new names, including in countries that did not vote “yes” at the General Assembly, said Omar Awadallah, a Palestinian Foreign Ministry official.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev dismissed the name change as pointless but declined comment on whether Israel would respond in any way. “Instead of looking for gimmicks, Palestinians should negotiate with Israel to bring about the end of the conflict,” he said. “That will lead to a situation of two states for two peoples.”

Israel objected to Abbas’ U.N. bid, accusing him of trying to bypass negotiations with Israel on the terms of statehood. Abbas has said negotiations remain his preferred choice, and that U.N. recognition was meant to improve his leverage with a far more powerful Israel once talks resume.

Since the U.N. vote, Abbas has shied away from measures that could close the door to talks by upsetting Israel or the U.S., which also objected to his upgrade bid.

Abbas has not taken practical steps toward seeking membership for Palestine in U.N. agencies, something made possible by the November vote, and his security forces continue to coordinate with Israeli troops in tracking Islamic militants in the West Bank.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland addressed U.S. opposition to using the term “State of Palestine.”

“You can’t create a state by rhetoric and with labels and names,” she told reporters. Nuland called Abbas’ decision “provocative, without changing the condition for the Palestinian people.”

Some countries, such as Brazil, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras, have adopted the new name. Others, including Norway, Sweden and Spain, are sticking with the Palestinian Authority term even though they supported U.N. recognition.

The documents and stationery with the new emblem will be ready within two months, said Hassan Alawi, a deputy interior minister in the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli officials declined comment on whether Israel would refuse to deal with documents bearing the “State of Palestine” logo.

The name change has little meaning for Palestinians in Hamas-ruled Gaza. “For me, it’s just ink on paper,” said Sharif Hamda, a 44-year-old pharmacist in Gaza City. “I wished they would save the money they will spend on this and use it for helping needy families.”

Associated Press writers Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City and Bradley Klapper in Washington D.C., contributed to this report.