UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Palestinians said Friday they have started negotiations with Egypt to determine the boundaries of their undersea territory as a first step to determining the sea borders of a Palestinian state.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, told a group of reporters that this is part of "building the structures of a serious, respectable state in all fields." He said the resources in an undersea "exclusive economic zone" — which need to be surveyed but might contain oil, gas or minerals — are "the wealth of the Palestinian people."
After the U.N. General Assembly recognized Palestine as a non-member observer state on Nov. 30, 2012, the Palestinians gained the right to seek membership in U.N. institutions and treaty bodies — and among more than a dozen that it joined was the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Mansour said the Palestinians have become "heavily involved" in the law-of-the-sea convention, whose state parties are currently meeting in New York, and the state of Palestine has just been elected as a member of its credentials committee.
"The significance of the ... credentials committee is that this is now the first newer step of assuming leadership in one of these organizations," he said. "For those who keep denying that we exist, we want to show them in a peaceful, legal, smart, realistic way that this state is growing, and it's growing in a responsible way, and it is also defending the rights of our people in accordance with international law."
Mansour said the Palestinian and Egyptian foreign ministers began preliminary negotiations recently on their sea border and now talks between technical teams are being arranged in Egypt.
If that agreement touches on Cyprus' exclusive economic zone, he said, the Palestinians will negotiate their border with Cyprus.
"Then, you can, with the help of experts and lawyers decide on the potential border between us and Israel," Mansour said.
Israel is not a party to the Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Mansour said "Israel declared its economic zone without consulting or negotiating with Lebanon, but they reached an agreement with Cyprus."
The land border between Israel and the Palestinians remains a key issue in negotiations on a two-state solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon said the Palestinians "are once again avoiding direct negotiations and instead turning to the international community."
"This meaningless statement does not bring any stability to our region and, more importantly, will not better the life of a single Palestinian," he said.
Mansour said the Palestinians are working hard to deposit their survey on their exclusive economic zone with the law of the sea convention "as quickly as possible."
But he said several things are required: "finishing the negotiations with Egypt which will affect the potential negotiations with Cyprus, and doing the scientific survey of the economic zone and the wealth in it."
This story has been corrected to reflect that the Palestinians' status was raised to a U.N. non-member observer state on Nov. 30, 2012, not in October 2012.