Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat claimed yesterday that 10 European Union states have decided to upgrade their PLO missions to embassy status. He didn’t specify which countries had allegedly agreed to this (though some foreign publications have recently tossed out the names France, Spain, Greece, and Portugal as possibilities):

Around 10 EU countries are set to upgrade the status of Palestinian representative offices in their capitals in the near future, chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat declared on Sunday.

This would mean that Palestinian missions would move a step closer toward becoming embassies whose officials enjoy full diplomatic immunity. … A PA official told The Jerusalem Post that the decision to seek international recognition of a Palestinian state was designed to shift the conflict from one over ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ to one over an “occupied state with defined borders.”

There’s an air of believability to Erekat’s claim in light of Norway’s recent approval of a Palestinian embassy, but I have to admit I’m still a bit skeptical, especially since the names of the countries aren’t mentioned. For one thing, unlike the EU states, Norway isn’t a member of the Quartet that brokers peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Would EU members really want to risk the semblance of neutrality by taking steps toward the unilateral validation of Palestinian statehood? And less than a week after the EU definitively rejected Erekat’s call to recognize Palestine as a country?

Supposing Erekat’s assertion is accurate, this move seems to be more symbolic than practical: for the EU member states, it’s a way to show solidarity with the Palestinians, while delivering a public jab at Israel over settlement construction. For the Palestinian Authority, it’s pretty much a PR move, designed to build momentum for a possible UN Security Council vote on Palestinian statehood, as well as an easy way to get the words “Israeli occupation” peppered into the news cycle.

But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have some problematic consequences for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. As David Frum pointed out yesterday, this type of unilateral approach to Palestinian statehood serves only to delay the peace process:

From the beginning of the Obama administration, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to negotiate directly with Israel. Indirect discussions have stumbled along without result. Abbas has insisted he cannot talk without a settlement freeze. Then when he gets his settlement freeze, he explains he still cannot talk.

The beauty of the UN approach is that it provides a perfect excuse never to talk to Israel again.

The UN approach may never achieve anything. It may leave the Palestinian people stuck in a frustrating status quo. But anything is better than a deal that would require a Palestinian leader to acknowledge the permanence of Israel. Back in 2000, Yasser Arafat told Bill Clinton that signing a treaty with Israel would cost Arafat his life. Abbas seems to have reached the same conclusion.

Of course, obstructing the peace process with Israel may be exactly what Erekat is hoping for. The PA official recently wrote a column in the Guardian calling for Israel to recognize the Palestinian “right of return,” so, clearly, a two-state solution isn’t even on his radar.

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