Britain upgrades status of Palestinian diplomats

AP , Tuesday 8 Mar 2011

British Foreign Secretary William Hague announces that Palestinian representatives will be recognised as a full diplomatic mission rather than a delegation

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague announced Monday the UK will upgrade the status of Palestinian representatives in London, ahead of talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hague is scheduled to meet with Abbas in London on Tuesday and said he would also raise his concern over the lack of progress on resuming talks on the Middle East peace process.

"It remains more vital than ever that we press for a just and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We want to see an urgent return to negotiations, based on clear parameters including 1967 borders," Hague said.

He told lawmakers that the Palestinian representation would be recognised as a full diplomatic mission, rather than its previous status as a delegation.

The change is largely symbolic and representatives will not have diplomatic immunity or other privileges accorded to those working on behalf of nations Britain recognises as independent.

However, members of the Palestinian mission will have a simplified visa regime.

"Given the extent of our aid to the Palestinian Authority and our work with them, we will join many other countries in upgrading the status of the Palestinian delegation to London to the level of a mission," Hague said.

After peace negotiations with Israel broke down last year, the Palestinians have embarked on a campaign to win international recognition for a state in all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem -- territories Israel captured in the 1967 war. So far ten countries have complied, all of them in Latin America.

In January, the Irish government announced it would upgrade the Palestinian diplomatic status to that of an official embassy. France and Spain have also made similar gestures.

Recognition of Palestinian statehood would not change conditions on the ground. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005 but still controls the West Bank, where Palestinians have limited self rule in populated areas. Palestinians hope widespread recognition would increase pressure on Israel.

Israel rejects the unilateral Palestinian approach, insisting that the only way to peace is through direct negotiations.

The British Foreign Office said it planned to inform other nations, including Israel, of the change. Israel's London Embassy said it would not immediately comment on Hague's decision.

In recent weeks, Hague has called on Israeli leaders and the US to do more to restart peace talks.

Peace talks broke down in September and the Palestinians argue discussions cannot resume amid continued Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

"We will work with all the parties to press for a decisive breakthrough this year," Hague told Parliament.

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