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Abbas’ “State of Palestine”

Samara Greenberg

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas last week issued a decree renaming the PA the “State of Palestine.” Although the decree is largely symbolic, as there is no real state of Palestine, the order stated that all Palestinian identification, passports, and official documents will be branded with the new name, and Palestinian ambassadors are to start functioning like envoys of a state.

The name change will have little impact on Israel-PA relations, aside from pushing the two farther away from the negotiating table. Palestinian officials on Monday clarified that all documents that concern Israel, such as ID cards and passports needed for checkpoints and crossings, will not be altered unless a further decision is made by Abbas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office responded to the decree by stating that the measure is “devoid of any political meaning and creates no practical impact on the ground.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN General Assembly. (Photo: UN/J Carrier)

Abbas’ move is in response to the UN vote to upgrade the PA’s status to “non-member observer state” from “non-member observer entity” on November 29. Changing the PA’s name is seemingly an effort by Abbas to keep the political momentum gained from the UN vote alive — important today as Fatah and its rival, Hamas, renew the idea of reconciliation while Hamas continues to gain power as a main Palestinian political player.

Amongst Palestinians, Hamas’s popularity increased following November’s Operation Pillar of Defense. According to a mid-December poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh would win in a presidential election against Abbas. And in general elections, Hamas would take 35 percent of the vote — a dramatic increase from its popularity level three months ago, which stood at 28 percent. In addition, within the Arab world, Hamas’s overall position was boosted following Egypt’s uprising that brought its Islamist brothers, the Muslim Brotherhood, into power. Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi has continuously illustrated his support for Hamas, unlike past president Hosni Mubarak who fully backed Abbas while shunning Hamas in Gaza.

As with the UN’s decision to upgrade the PA’s status, Abbas’ name change for the governing body neither alters the fact that the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority does not have the structures necessary for statehood, nor the reality that a solution with Israel is the only legitimate way to create a Palestinian state.