Ban in Ramallah: Happy to Visit 'Palestine'
Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) may have just restarted but, according to the head of the United Nations, “Palestine” already exists.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who arrived in Ramallah on Thursday to meet PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, was quoted by AFP as having said upon his arrival that he was pleased "to visit the state of Palestine."
In a unilateral move by the PA, the UN General Assembly on November 29 upgraded the PA to the status of non-member observer state by a vote of 138 votes in favor, nine against and 41 abstentions.
Abbas has taken advantage of this vote by taking a series of steps to officially name the areas he controls "the State of Palestine".
He first ordered all of the PA's institutions to stop using the term "Palestinian National Authority" on official documents and replace it with the term 'the State of Palestine'.
Abbas then issued new guidelines ordering the PA government to re-issue passports, identity cards, registration documents, vehicle licenses, driver's licenses, stamps and postmarks.
Even the United States, which voted against the PA in the UN, has said that a Palestinian state can only be established through peace talks between the sides, but the vote in the General Assembly was apparently enough for Ban as is reflected by his comments on Thursday.
Abbas said Thursday that all key issues were discussed at a new round of peace talks with Israel, but he declined to elaborate because of an agreed news blackout.
"We can't speak now about what happened," he was quoted by AFP as having told a joint press conference with Ban.
At the request of Washington, Israel and the PA have so far maintained a strict news blackout on the U.S.-brokered talks.
"We discussed the issues which are always on the table: borders, Jerusalem, settlements," Abbas said.
"Until now we didn't speak about what happened (in the talks) and when there is something we shall tell you," he added, according to AFP.
Israeli and PA negotiators met for around five hours on Wednesday evening, in a meeting that was described as “long and serious”. The parties agreed to meet again within days.
Ban, who arrived from Jordan, called upon both sides to avoid actions which could disrupt the fragile negotiations.
He did not elaborate but likely was referring to the newly announced Israeli plans for building in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. Despite having been informed of the building prior to talks, and despite the fact that the construction will take place in areas which even the PA has accepted in previous negotiations will be within Israeli borders, Palestinian Authority officials and their supporters have expressed outrage at the plans.
In Amman earlier, Ban urged Israelis and PA Arabs to show "patience" to give the peace talks a chance of success, Jordan's state-run Petra news agency reported.
He "called on the Israelis and the Palestinians to have patience and do all that they can for the success of their negotiations and achieve the needed progress with the help of the international community."
Ban met on Thursday evening with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who said that Israel expected the PA to make “good-will gestures”, just as Israel had done by releasing 26 murdering terrorists as a gesture to the PA. In total, 104 terrorists will be released as the peace talks continue.
Edelstein clarified that Israel expects Abbas to take “confident-building” steps that will create a good atmosphere for the continuation of peace talks. One of these steps, said the Knesset Speaker, is that the incitement against Israel at PA schools be stopped.
"Part of the effort for peace is educating for peace and not for hatred of Israel, and the Palestinians must stop the incitement against Israel in its education system,” he declared.
On Friday, Ban is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.