Last week, following the upgrade of its status at the United Nations, the Palestinian Authority declared it was changing its name to “the State of Palestine.” No such entity, of course, actually exists. All the Oslo Accord agreements and international funding entail the “Palestinian Authority.” (Although in going to the U.N., Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas had effectively shredded Oslo, which requires bilateral action.)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Majdi Mohammed / Associated Press)

An old Middle East hand told me, “They are changing their stationery, but that doesn’t change their diplomatic status anywhere … In fact, it may reflect that the U.N. vote meant so little in the real world that they are using this symbolic act in place of real gains.”

Before Monday, the administration had been publicly silent on the name change. At the State Department briefing on Monday spokeswoman Victoria Nuland echoed this view, saying: “I mean, it’s provocative without changing the condition for the Palestinian people.” She continued with this exchange:

MS. NULAND: Well, we’re certainly going to tell them that it’s a bad idea and it doesn’t change anything for the Palestinian people, and if they really want to change things for the Palestinian people, they need to get back to the table.

QUESTION: Okay. But do you know if that was – was that opinion expressed to the Palestinians before this, when —

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t know that we had any forewarning on this name declaration, but —

QUESTION: But it certainly will be —

MS. NULAND: — David Hale will have a chance to say something, too.

QUESTION: — it certainly will be raised.

MS. NULAND: It will.

QUESTION: What – how is it provocative? You said it’s a provocative act. What does it provoke?

MS. NULAND: Again, we have been calling on both sides not to take rhetorical action or action on the ground that could be — could imperil the environment for peace. So it’s the kind of thing that is antagonizing to the other side without changing the situation on the ground.

In sum, this is another bit of evidence that the Palestinian Authority is operating in a world of symbolism, threats and public relations stunts which slough off the authority’s obligations and finger-point at Israel, trying to make settlements once again the excuse for not negotiating. Perhaps if the administration were as vocal publicly about the authority’s decision to move away from its international obligations and as insistent that it sever its relationship with Hamas as it is about nagging Israel about building in Jewish neighborhoods, the Palestinian Authority might take us more seriously. It is interesting that in a reversal of prior administrations we now holler at Israel in public and have private conversations expressing concern with the Palestinian Authority.