Middle East

Palestinian officials avoid clash with Israel over state symbols

Dec. 25, 2012 - FILE of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

Dec. 25, 2012 - FILE of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.  (AP)

Palestinian officials said Monday they will not rush to issue new passports and ID cards with the emblem "State of Palestine" to avoid confrontation with Israel.

Last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas decreed that in official documents "State of Palestine" must replace "Palestinian Authority," the name of his self-rule government.

His decision came after the U.N. General Assembly recognized a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in late November, overriding Israeli objections.

Israel says such a state can only be the result of negotiations. However, Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disagree on the parameters of such talks, which have been frozen for more than four years.

The U.N. recognition has largely been a symbolic victory for the Palestinians, mainly because it affirmed the borders of a future Palestine in territories Israel captured in 1967. Netanyahu has said he is willing to give up some land to a Palestinian state, but not withdraw to the 1967 borders.

The U.N. nod has changed little in the daily lives of Palestinians. Abbas' Palestinian Authority administers some 38 percent of the West Bank, but Israel maintains overall control of the territory. Abbas has no say in east Jerusalem, annexed by Israel in 1967, or in Gaza, seized by his political rival, the Islamic militant Hamas, in 2007.

The name change decreed by Abbas marked the first practical step in the aftermath of the U.N. bid, but also highlighted Abbas' limitations.

Hassan Alawi, a deputy interior minister in the Palestinian Authority, said documents and stationery with the new emblem will be ready within two months. But he said all documents Palestinians need in their dealings with Israel, such as passports, ID cards and drivers licenses, will only be changed if there is a further decision by Abbas.

Israeli officials declined comment Monday on whether Israel would refuse to deal with documents bearing the "State of Palestine" logo. However, Alawi said his office was informed by Israeli officials after Abbas' decree that "they will not deal with any new form of passport or ID."

Saeb Erekat, a senior Abbas aide, said the new emblem will be used in correspondence with countries that have recognized a state of Palestine.

He suggested that there would be no change in passports or other documents Palestinians need for movement through Israeli crossings.

"As far as the Israelis are concerned, we are not going to overload the wagon of our people by putting state of Palestine on passports," he said. "They (Israelis) will not allow them to travel."

Palestinians must pass through Israeli-run crossings to leave the West Bank and also carry an ID card with them at all times or risk arrest if stopped without one at an Israeli military checkpoint inside the territory.

Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, dismissed the name change as insignificant, but declined comment on whether Israel would retaliate in any way.

"We see this as another act that has no practical significance," he said. "Instead of looking for gimmicks, Palestinians should negotiate with Israel to bring about the end of the conflict. That will lead to a situation of two states for two peoples."