Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Palestinians Adopt Name to Show Off New 'State' Status

Palestinians Adopt Name to Show Off New 'State' Status


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas officially changed his government's name to "the State of Palestine" in an attempt to implement—even if only symbolically—a recent United Nations vote granting it the status of nonmember observer state.
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Palestinians in Gaza City on Friday celebrated the 48th anniversary of the Fatah movement's founding.
Palestinian government bodies will no longer use "The Palestinian Authority,'' the title of the autonomous government created by the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords, and the government will begin to issue "state of Palestine" passports, the website of Mr. Abbas's Fatah government said. 
Palestinian ambassadors abroad have received instructions to start functioning like envoys of a state, the statement said.

Israel didn't comment on the policy change, the Associated Press reported.

The decision highlights the disparity between the new status conferred on the Palestinians by the U.N. General Assembly vote on Nov. 29, and the reality in the West Bank, which Israel says it controls for security reasons and where Palestinians exercise little sovereignty.

"Palestine is no more a state today than it was on Nov. 28,'' said Nathan Thrall, an analyst with the International Crisis Group that focuses on the Palestinians. "There's only going to be more disappointment and more pressure on the leadership as they are ridiculed for changing their letterhead.''

Further muddling the significance of Mr. Abbas's announcement, the Palestinian government, although recognized by the U.N., is split between rival authorities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Unclear is whether the Hamas leaders in Gaza will implement the new policy.

Palestinian political analysts said Mr. Abbas feels he must keep alive the political momentum generated by the U.N. vote, which boosted his stature. The Palestinian leadership is considering whether to apply to various international organizations to seek full membership.

"Even though we recognize this state is under occupation, it is now changing its name and character,'' said Mohammed Shtayyeh, a Palestinian negotiator. The move is "to manifest the decision taken internationally, wherever possible."

However, Mr. Abbas also has signaled a move in the opposite direction, threatening to dissolve the Palestinian government and transfer responsibility for daily governing back to Israeli authorities. 
That would be to protest of Israel's policy of withholding tax and customs revenue from the authority, which Israel is doing to protest the U.N. vote.

The Palestinians are bound by a 1994 economic accord with Israel that formalized a customs union with Israel and maintains the Israeli shekel as the dominant currency. That accord makes the Palestinians dependent on the Israeli government for collecting and transferring some $100 million a month in tax and customs revenue. 

Even though the Palestinian Authority government is responsible for running civilian affairs in the cities and villages of the West Bank and even runs a Palestinian paramilitary security force, the Israeli military occasionally launches incursions into the city at will and arrests Palestinians. Israel's military also control the borders passages into the West Bank.

"When the Palestinians went to the U.N. and called on the outside world to recognize them as a state, it is expected that they should call themselves as a state,'' said Ghassan Khatib, a professor at Bir Zeit University and a former government spokesperson. "But this isn't significant…. its only a symbol. We have too many symbols of a state, what we lack is attributes of a state.''
Corrections & Amplifications 

The United Nations General Assembly voted to grant the Palestinians the status of nonmember observer state on Nov. 29. An earlier version of this article incorrectly gave the date as Nov. 28 and incorrectly called the Palestinians' status non-observer state.