The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) has said its decision to seek membership to several UN organisations should not mean an end to US-brokered peace talks with Israel, where officials have warned of hefty prices to be paid for the move.
The PLO's director general Yasser Abed Rabbo said on Wednesday that Palestinians were committed to negotiations, and that there was no link between the move to become signatory to the 15 international conventions and a return to the negotiating table with Israel.
We will continue our efforts with the US administration, and will do everything we can to remove all obstacles.
"The Palestinian leadership respects its commitments and wants the political process to continue, but we want a real political process, without tricks," Abed Rabbo said. "We will continue our efforts with the US administration, and will do everything we can to remove all obstacles."
His comments to the media come a day after the Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas said Palestine had begun steps to become party to 15 international conventions, leading to speculation that peace talks with the Israelis were dead.
The Palestinians want US efforts to salvage the peace process to continue, Abed Rabbo clarified. "We hope (US Secretary of State John) Kerry's efforts will be renewed in the coming days," he told reporters in Ramallah. "Kerry knows the reality. We don't want these efforts to finish."
The PLO is the highest representative body for Palestinians worldwide. The PA was created for a provisional period to manage the territories Israel withdraws from in accordance with the Oslo Accords signed between the PLO and Israel in 1993.
Abed Rabbo said Israel's failure to release the last batch of pre-Oslo detainees left the Palestinians with little choice but to turn to international bodies, adding that the Palestinian move did not constitute a breach of the terms of the agreement which brought about a resumption of peace talks in July 2013.
"The Palestinian administration only offered to put their international organisation memberships on hold for nine months in exchange for the prisoner release," he said.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the PLO said "the release of prisoners was not formally linked to the negotiations process," and that the move to turn to international organisations "does not mean that [the] negotiations process is over. Indeed, the PLO remains committed to this nine month process, which ends on April 29."
Israel had pledged to free 104 veteran Palestinian prisoners in four tranches, and in exchange, Ramallah had pledged to freeze all moves to seek membership in UN organisations until April 2014. But a crisis erupted at the weekend when Israel refused to release the final 26 prisoners, prompting a Palestinian response of resuming their approach to international agencies.
The PA said the list of the institutions and conventions it would become party to included the four Geneva Conventions (which lay down the standards of international law for war and occupation) and treaties and protocols on human, children and women's rights as well as conventions on anti-corruption and diplomatic and consular relations.
The International Criminal Court was not on the list, which suggests that the move was largely intended as a pressure tactic. The ICC could theoretically open the way to war crimes charges against Israel over its settlement construction on illegally occupied territory.
While most Israeli officials have kept mum on Abbas' move on Tuesday, an Israeli minister said the Palestinians will "pay a heavy price" for requesting to join international institutions. The punitive measures he proposed included annexing large swaths of occupied West Bank land and withholding financial aid to the PA.
Kerry, who had been piecing together a complex three-way deal to push the faltering negotiations into 2015, cancelled a visit Ramallah, planned for Wednesday.
"It is completely premature tonight to draw any kind of judgment, certainly any final judgment, about todays' events and where things are," Kerry told reporters on Tuesday in Brussels, where he was attending a ministerial meeting of NATO. "We are continuing even now as I am speaking, to be engaged with both parties to find the best way forward," he said.
On Tuesday night, several demonstrations were held across the West Bank in support of the PA's move to join international conventions and treaties. In Ramallah, Palestinians stood outside Abbas' presidential headquarters holding Palestinian flags and Fatah party banners. Similar protests took place in Bethlehem, Hebron and Jenin.
In the meantime, a settlement watchdog group said Israel was pushing ahead with plans to build more than 700 units in the settlement of Gilo built on East Jerusalem land. The move could present another obstacle in the deeply troubled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Peace Now said.