Taking a cue from its European neighbours, Britain was on Wednesday reported to be considering upgrading the status of the Palestinian representative's office in London to that of a diplomatic “mission” to put pressure on Israel to allow resumption of peace talks stalled because of its refusal to halt illegal construction of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian lands.

France, Spain, Portugal and Norway have already taken similar initiatives and more European countries are expected to follow suit.

The British move comes after Foreign Secretary William Hague's recent visit to Israel and the West Bank city of Ramallah where he held talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. After his talks in Israel, Mr. Hague warned that the “window is closing” on the peace process because of the deadlock over Jewish settlements. “We do want Israel to announce a new moratorium on settlements... That is what the whole of Europe wants, that is what the United States wants.”

He described plans to build nearly 1,300 homes in East Jerusalem as an “obstacle to peace” and said: “The latest announcement…is extremely disappointing and unhelpful. Their construction should stop.”

The British move is also seen as a recognition of the state-building efforts of the Palestinian leadership and is said to reflect a growing view in Whitehall that Britain, as a major European Union country, should play a more pro-active role in breaking the deadlock in West Asia.

Observers said that although the proposed “upgrade” would be largely symbolic its political significance would be closely scrutinised in Israel given the often controversial close relationship between the two countries.

“The change chimes in with some unease in Jerusalem after Mr. Hague's recent visit, over some of his comments and some of the Palestinian leaders he met,” said Yossi Mekelberg, an Associate Fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House.

In recent months, British-Israeli relations have come under strain with Britain expelling an Israeli diplomat in the wake of the scandal of use of British passports allegedly by Mossad agents to kill a Hamas leader.

AFP adds from Ramallah:

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas was to travel to Brazil on Wednesday to lay the symbolic foundation stone of a Palestinian embassy in Brasilia. The ceremony is to take place on Friday and comes after Brazil announced it was recognising a Palestinian state based on the borders which existed before the 1967 Six-Day War when Israel seized the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

On Saturday, Mr. Abbas is due to attend the inauguration of Brazil's new President Dilma Rousseff and expected to hold meetings with Latin American leaders in Brazil for the ceremony.

Brazil's outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on December 3 that his country would recognise a Palestinian state following a personal request from Mr. Abbas. The announcement angered both Israel and the United States, which have said a Palestinian state can only be achieved through a negotiated peace deal.

But a string of other Latin American countries, including Bolivia, Argentina and Ecuador, have followed suit, and Uruguay has said it will recognise a Palestinian state on the same basis in 2011.

Other Latin American countries, including Cuba, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Venezuela, already recognised Palestinian statehood several years ago.

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