Hussein al-Sheikh, the Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs, informed Israel on Wednesday that his government intends to issue passports stamped with the name and seal of the State of Palestine.
As things stand today, and have stood since the Oslo Peace Accords were enacted in the mid-1990s, the passport issued to Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza reads Palestinian Authority and features the Authority’s seal on its cover.
Al-Sheikh, who is also in charge of the Palestinian Authority’s contacts with the Israeli government, made the announcement on Palestine Radio. He said the new travel documents would be issued “soon” and explained that he had informed his Israeli counterparts of the decision.
The declaration was precipitated by an assertion made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last December, while on an official visit to Greece, in which he announced the new passport format and added “we have already changed all documents issued by ministries and public services and they now bear the name ‘State of Palestine’. We no longer accept using the name Palestinian Authority.”
Israel Interior Ministry spokesperson Sabine Haddad told The Media Line that, “we know nothing of the matter and have not been presented with such passports. Either way, this is a political affair.”
If Israel refuses to recognize the new document, those paying the highest price are likely to be West Bank Palestinian citizens, whose current passport is accepted by only 37 countries (including Israel) and who are obliged to go through Israeli immigration facilities in order to travel abroad.
For Gazans, the situation is even more complicated. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the extremist Islamic faction that took over Gaza in 2007, have not found a modus vivendi for the issuing of travel documents. After Hamas took control of Gaza, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah denied Gazans passports, leaving thousands stranded without travel documents. But almost all Western countries that list Hamas as a rogue terrorist movement refuse to accept any documents it has issued.
Gaza is rife with rumors that the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt will soon be reopened, allowing Palestinians in Gaza to travel abroad again after months of closure, but this depends entirely on their ability to acquire the necessary travel documents.
Jacky Hougi, the Israeli correspondent who first reported the change, told The Media Line that “it’s a symbolic declaration on their part regarding the State’s status.
Israel Army Radio quoted an unnamed Israeli official who said that the announcement to move forward with the passport change was made without Israel’s approval.
As part of its ongoing international initiatives, the Palestinian government last week distributed a draft UN Security Council resolution denouncing the ongoing Israeli construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and demanding an immediate halt.
In an interview on the first leg of a two-week tour that will take him to Turkey, France, Russia, Germany and New York, where he will visit the UN, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told AFP on Tuesday that it was now “urgent” that the UN condemn Israel.
“The Security Council is very important because of Israel’s settlement activities and because it has not stopped these activities,” Abbas said, adding, “it (settlement activity) is something that has seriously jeopardized the two-state project.” He also criticized US President Barack Obama for taking “insufficient action” and voiced his support for a French initiative to hold an international peace conference this summer.
Danny Danon, Israeli Ambassador to the UN, said the proposed resolution was an attempt “to deceive the international community by putting forward initiatives that do nothing to better the lives of either side of this conflict.”
“The Palestinians must understand that there are no shortcuts. The only way to promote negotiations starts with their condemning terrorism and stopping the incitement, and ends with direct negotiations between the two sides,” he said in a statement issued by his office last week.
In 2012, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to admit the Palestinian Authority as a “non-member state,” upgrading their status and providing a new stage for Palestinian charges of war crimes levied against Israel.
Earlier this week, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki told local media that his government hoped Obama, now liberated from the strictures of a re-election campaign, would break with American custom and refrain from vetoing the Palestinian resolution.