The Palestinian Authority will not rush to print passports or identification cards bearing the name "State of Palestine" due to concerns that such a move will prevent Palestinian movement through Israeli crossings, PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Monday.
"As far as the Israelis are concerned, we are not going to overload the wagon of our people by putting 'State of Palestine' on passports," he said. "They (Israelis) will not allow them to travel."
Israeli officials declined comment Monday on whether Israel would refuse to deal with documents bearing the "State of Palestine" logo. However, Hassan Alawi, a deputy interior minister in the PA, said his office was informed by Israeli officials after PA President Mahmoud Abbas' decree that "they will not deal with any new form of passport or ID."
"At the end of the day, the Palestinian Authority won't cause trouble for its people," Nour Odeh, a spokeswoman for Abbas' government, said of the need for caution.
Erekat said the new emblem will be used in correspondence with countries that have recognized a state of Palestine.
Abbas won overwhelming U.N. General Assembly support to upgrade the Palestinian Authority to the status of an observer state, providing de-facto recognition for a state of Palestine in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in late November.
Recognition, however, has not transformed the day-to-day lives of Palestinians, and some argue that it made things worse. In apparent retaliation for the U.N. bid, Israel in December withheld its monthly $100 million transfer of tax rebates it collects on behalf of the PA, further deepening the Abbas government's financial crisis.
Since the U.N. recognition, Abbas has maneuvered between avoiding confrontation with Israel and finding small ways to change the situation on the ground.
Last week, his government press office urged journalists to refer to a state of Palestine, instead of the Palestinian Authority, the autonomy government set up two decades ago as part of interim peace deals with Israel.
Palestinian diplomatic missions around the world have been told to use the new names, including those in countries that did not vote "yes" at the General Assembly, said Omar Awadallah, a PA Foreign Ministry official.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev dismissed the name change as pointless but declined comment on whether Israel would retaliate in any way. "Instead of looking for gimmicks, Palestinians should negotiate with Israel to bring about the end of the conflict," he said. "That will lead to a situation of two states for two peoples."
Israel objected to Abbas' U.N. bid, accusing him of trying to bypass negotiations with Israel on the terms of statehood. Such talks have been frozen for more than four years because Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disagree on their parameters. Netanyahu says he is willing to cede land to a Palestinian state but will not withdraw to the 1967 lines or give up any part of east Jerusalem, the Palestinians' desired capital.
Abbas has said negotiations remain his preferred choice, and that U.N. recognition was meant to improve his leverage with a far more powerful Israel once talks resume.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed U.S. opposition to using the term "State of Palestine."
"You can't create a state by rhetoric and with labels and names," she told reporters. "You can only create a state, in this context, through bilateral negotiations." Nuland called Abbas' decision "provocative, without changing the condition for the Palestinian people."
She said the U.S. peace envoy to the Mideast,David Hale, was headed to the region and would meet the Palestinian leader on Tuesday.
Some countries, such as Brazil, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras, have adopted the new name. Others, like Norway, Sweden and Spain, stick to the Palestinian Authority term even though they supported U.N. recognition.
Analysts said Abbas holds out hope that U.S. President Barack Obama will get more involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his second term and – freed from the restraints of seeking re-election – take a tougher stance toward Israel.
"He still hopes to resume peace talks in line with U.S. efforts," Palestinian analyst Hani al-Masri said of Abbas.
"Therefore, he is making these slight changes because people expect him to make changes after the U.N. recognition."
Still, the gap between the symbolic U.N. nod and the reality on the ground remains wide.
The Palestinian Authority administers some 38 percent of the West Bank, but Israel maintains overall control over the territory. Abbas has no say in east Jerusalem, annexed by Israel in 1967, or in the Gaza Strip, bloodily seized by Hamas in 2007.
The documents and stationery with the new emblem will be ready within two months, said Alawi.
The name change has even less meaning for Palestinians in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Israel withdrew from the coastal strip in 2005 but continues to control access by air, sea and land, with the exception of one Gaza border crossing with Egypt.
"For me, it's just ink on paper," said Sharif Hamda, a 44-year-old pharmacist in Gaza City. "I wished they would save the money they will spend on this and use it for helping needy families.