Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has signed a request to join several UN agencies in a move that could derail a US push to revive faltering peace talks with Israel.
“The Palestinian leadership has unanimously approved a decision to seek membership of 15 UN agencies and international treaties, beginning with the Fourth Geneva Convention,” Abbas said on television on Tuesday after signing the demand during a meeting at his Ramallah headquarters in the occupied West Bank.
“The demands [for membership] will be sent immediately” to the relevant agencies, he said.
“This is not a move against America, or any other party – it is our right, and we agreed to suspend it for nine months,” said Abbas.
US Secretary of State John Kerry immediately announced that he was cancelling a trip to the region on Wednesday that Washington had hoped would result in a three-way deal aimed at extending the negotiations into 2015.
“It is completely premature tonight to draw any kind of judgment, certainly any final judgment, about today’s events and where things are,” Kerry told reporters in Brussels, where he was attending a ministerial meeting of NATO.
Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Jerusalem, said: “Going to the UN means the potential of going for an independent state and of turning to the International Criminal Court.
“It ups the pressure on the US and on Israel, something they [Palestinians] have always threatened. During the nine months of talks Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said they would not do this. But they were promised nine times the release of this last batch of prisoners,” our correspondent said.
Under the US-brokered deal that relaunched the peace talks in July, Israel said it would release 104 Palestinians held since before the 1993 Oslo peace accords in exchange for Palestine not pressing for statehood recognition at the United Nations.
“Abbas feels he has no other choice. He is in a difficult position among the Palestinians: The settlements have doubled; home demolitions of Palestinians have doubled – and it is difficult for him to justify the talks without seeing results,” Dekker added.
Release of prisoners
However, Israel has refused to release the final batch of 26 prisoners, using it as a bargaining chip to try and extend talks beyond their April 29 deadline.
The Palestinians have also repeatedly threatened to resume their action through international courts and the UN over Israel’s settlement expansion on occupied territory in the West Bank and in annexed Arab East Jerusalem.
Israel on Tuesday reissued tenders for hundreds of settler homes in the East Jerusalem settlement neighbourhood of Gilo, on top of the thousands of new homes it has announced since July.
Prior to Abbas’ announcement, Kerry had been due back in the region for a meeting with the Palestinian president on Wednesday, after a whirlwind visit on Monday and Tuesday.