Germany has upgraded the Palestinian diplomatic representation in Berlin from a delegation to a mission headed by an ambassador, visiting German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle announced Wednesday.
The decision followed similar steps in recent months by France, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. It was seen as a boost to the Palestinian quest for international recognition.
Germany is one of the most influential countries in Europe and one of Israel's most loyal allies.
The Palestinians have been campaigning for U.N. membership for a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
The Palestinians say they're trying to build leverage against Israel with the U.N. bid, but remain committed to negotiating the terms of Palestinian statehood. Israel claims the U.N. bid is a Palestinian attempt to delegitimize Israel and bypass negotiations.
The Palestinians have won individual recognition of a state of Palestine from dozens of countries, but not from most of Western Europe. The status upgrades by Germany and other European countries do not necessarily mean they would vote for full U.N. membership.
Commenting on Germany's decision, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said "the Palestinians will certainly interpret this as an encouragement to proceed with their rejection of direct talks, and that is a pity."