Israel: British upgrade of Palestinian mission is 'unhelpful'

Israel Tuesday decried Britain's decision to upgrade the Palestinian General Delegation in Britain is to the level of a mission.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor charged the "unhelpful measure" would only strengthen Palestinian rejectionism.

"They are refusing to renew direct talks, and at the same time they are getting these gestures that are encouraging them in their current policy," he told the German Press Agency dpa.

Palestinians hold flags and posters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinians hold flags and posters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a protest against Washington's veto of a UN resolution in the West Bank city of Ramallah February 20, 2011

Photo by: Reuters

But Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki welcomed the step as a "good" step, which however was "not enough." He called for recognition of a Palestinian state in the borders of 1967, during which Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan and Gaza from Egypt.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced London's decision to upgrade the Palestinian diplomatic delegation's status Monday, ahead of a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, scheduled for Tuesday. Abbas is also due to have talks with Prime Minister David Cameron.

The Palestinian General Delegation in London, which refers to itself as an embassy, is headed by Ambassador Manuel Sarkis Hassassian.

Israel is concerned about its worsening international standing, as the peace process remains frozen, with the Palestinians conditioning direct negotiations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a freeze Israeli construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Abbas' West Bank-based leadership is suspicious of Netanyahu's intentions and has said it will not hold lengthy negotiations without his right-leaning government just so that it can enjoy increased international legitimacy, while settlement construction continues.

Netanyahu has said he cannot and will not halt construction in areas which Israeli consensus holds should become part of Israel under a future peace deal, and has repeatedly urged Abbas to drop his precondition.

But his Palestinian Authority meanwhile pushes to upgrade its international status, asking countries to recognize a Palestinian state and to upgrade the Palestinian missions to their capitals.

A number of South American states have already done so.

Former Dutch prime minister Dries van Agt said in an interview published Tuesday he expected the first European country to recognize Palestine to be Norway, which is not a member of the EU. He told Haaretz he had reasons to believe Spain would be the first EU country to follow.

Netanyahu, in what critics have already blasted as an empty attempt to prove to the Israeli public he has a foreign policy, plans to present a new peace initiative this spring, offering the Palestinians a state with provisional borders, with sovereignty in
parts of the West Bank where they currently enjoy autonomy. Abbas rejects a state with provisional borders.

Netanyahu is expected nonetheless to make the offer in an address in Washington in May, either to Congress or to the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the US pro-Israel lobby.

Malki said Abbas had asked Hague for the upgrade during a visit to the region last year by the British foreign secretary, who had told the Palestinian leader he would "consider" the request.

"We are looking for Britain and for European countries to recognize the Palestinian state," he told Voice of Palestine Radio, adding the Palestinian Authority continued to work on that.

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