Ireland upgrades Palestinian territories relations

Ireland is upgrading its diplomatic relations with the Palestinian territories in recognition of progress being made by the Palestinian Authority, officials said Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs said the Palestinian diplomatic representation will now be known as the Palestinian "mission," instead of the previous Palestinian "delegation."

The delegation chief's title will also be amended to "ambassador, head of mission" from "delegate general," she added, speaking on customary condition of anonymity according to departmental protocol.

The spokeswoman said the move is to recognize progress being made by the Palestinian Authority in building up institutions of a Palestinian state.

The decision recognizes Ireland's long-standing support for Palestinian statehood, but does not involve any recognition of a Palestinian state and stops short of granting the mission full diplomatic privileges and immunities, she added.

Israel's government condemned the move, saying it was in line with "Ireland's biased policy on the Middle East."

"The decision will only strengthen Palestinian rejection of direct dialogue which makes it even harder to resume peace negotiations," said Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority are at an impasse in peace talks over a Palestinian demand that Israel freeze Jewish settlements in areas Palestinians want for a future state.

Given the stalemate, some Palestinian officials have been trying to rally international recognition for an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem even without a deal with Israel. Brazil and Argentina and other South American countries have granted such recognition, while Ireland's decision to upgrade relations tracks a trend set by several other European countries, such as France, Spain and Portugal.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said in a statement Tuesday that he hopes other European countries will follow suit "as a first step toward the recognition of the Palestinian state."

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Karin Laub in Ramallah, West Bank and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report.