After decades of negotiating, the Palestinian question remains: When will statehood be theirs?
A senior Palestinian official has said there is no link between the Palestinians’ move to join international organisations and a return to the negotiating table with Israel.
The comments from Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s director-general, came a day after the Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas said he had begun steps to join 15 international agencies and conventions, leading to speculation that negotiations with the Israelis had collapsed.
On Wednesday, there were signs that the move by Abbas to sign more than a dozen international conventions does not necessarily spell the end of negotiations between Palestinians and Israel.
A Palestinian source, speaking to Israel Radio, said that the PA was willing to hold off on sending applications to these international organisations should Israel release the final batch of detainees jailed before the 1993 Oslo peace accords, as originally agreed between the parties.
Abed Rabbo said Israel’s failure to release the last batch of detainees left the Palestinians with little choice but to turn to international bodies. He said 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.
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, enraging the Palestinians who on Tuesday responded by 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 consular relations.
While most Israeli officials have kept silent on Abbas’ move on Tuesday, an Israeli minister said the the Palestinians will “pay a heavy price” for requesting to join international institutions. The punitive measures he proposed included annexing large swathes of West Bank land and withholding financial aid to the PA.
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, the group, Peace Now, said.