RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Israel has stripped Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of VIP status and given him a watered-down travel permit that is valid for just two months, Palestinian officials charged Sunday.
The officials said that Abbas complained about the permit at an internal meeting of his Fatah Party last week.
In a speech, Abbas said the new permit, similar to those required for Palestinian laborers entering Israel, was a reflection of Israel's continued control over the Palestinians, and suggested that Israel was trying to punish him for applying for Palestinian membership in the United Nations.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity Sunday because they were not allowed to brief reporters.
Maj. Guy Inbar, a spokesman for the Israeli agency that issues travel documents to Palestinians, said there has been no change in policy. He said the permit was the result of a technical glitch that should be resolved soon.
"Freedom of movement ... remains exactly the same as it was," Inbar said. "I deny all claims of changes in travel passes of Palestinian officials," he said. "There is no change in position or policy regarding the travel passes of Palestinian officials."
The VIP permit allowed Abbas to travel whenever and wherever he wanted. Palestinian officials acknowledged the new permit has not prevented Abbas, a frequent traveler to world capitals, from moving in and out of the West Bank. On Sunday, Abbas flew to London for talks with British leaders.
Dozens of local Facebook users spread what appeared to be a copy of Abbas' travel permit, in many cases with sarcastic comments about Abbas' weakness. "See you at the checkpoint," wrote one user, identified as Nidal Ahmed.
Adnan Dmiri, spokesman for the Palestinian security forces, said dozens of Palestinian officials have lost VIP cards since the middle of last year — shortly before Abbas' appeal to the United Nations in September. Israel bitterly opposed the U.N. gambit, saying the Palestinians should be admitted to the world body only as part of a negotiated peace agreement.
"We believe that Israel is using all means to pressure the Palestinian Authority to step away from its political path of resorting to the international community," Dmiri said.
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been stalled for more than three years over the issue of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Early this month, the chief negotiators from the two sides began meeting again in hopes of finding a formula for the formal resumption of talks.