Norway, Ireland, Spain to recognise Palestine on 28th

Thursday, May 23, 2024

MADRID: Norway, Ireland and Spain announced on Wednesday that they will recognise a Palestinian state from May 28, sparking delight from Palestinian leaders and fury from Israel.

While the three nations hope other European countries will follow suit, France said it believed now is not the right moment for it to do so. A furious Israel immediately announced it was recalling its envoys to Ireland and Norway for “urgent consultations” and was expected to do the same with its ambassador to Spain.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store made the announcement in Oslo, Spain Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Madrid and Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris in Dublin.

Israel has said plans for Palestinian recognition constitute a “prize for terrorism” that would reduce the chances of a negotiated resolution to the war in Gaza, which began on October 7 when Hamas militants stormed into southern Israel. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz charged that “the twisted step of these countries is an injustice to the memory of the 7/10 victims.”

But Norway -- which has played a key role in Middle East diplomacy over the years, hosting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at the beginning of the 1990s which led to the Oslo Accords -- said recognition was needed to support moderate voices amid the Gaza war. “In the midst of a war, with tens of thousands killed and injured, we must keep alive the only alternative that offers a political solution for Israelis and Palestinians alike: Two states, living side by side, in peace and security,” Store said, adding that the moves could give renewed momentum for peace talks.

Spain’s Sanchez said recognition was needed to reinforce the two-state solution, which he said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was jeopardising with the offensive in the Gaza Strip. “Fighting the Hamas terrorist group is legitimate and necessary after October 7, but Netanyahu is causing so much pain, destruction and resentment in Gaza and the rest of Palestine that the two-state solution is in danger,” Sanchez told parliament.

And Ireland’s Harris drew parallels with the recognition of the Irish state in 1919. “From our own history, we know what it means,” he went on, referring to Ireland’s declaration of independence from British rule, which eventually led to formal statehood.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation, hailed the moves as “historic” while Jordan called it an “important and essential step”. Also Hamas in a statement hailed the move as “an important step towards affirming our right to our land”, while Bassem Naim, a senior Hamas political bureau member, said the move will mark “a turning point in the international position on the Palestinian issue”.

The European Union, however, remains divided over the issue. In March Slovenia and Malta signed a statement with Spain and Ireland expressing their willingness to recognise a Palestinian state. But French Minister Stephane Sejourne said in a statement to AFP that “France does not consider that the conditions have been present to date for this decision to have a real impact in this process.”

For decades, the formal recognition of a Palestinian state has been seen as the endgame of a peace process between Palestinians and their Israeli neighbours. The United States and most Western European nations have said they are willing to one day recognise Palestinian statehood, but not before agreement is reached on thorny issues like final borders and the status of Jerusalem. But after Hamas’s October 7 attacks and Israel’s retaliatory campaign in Gaza, diplomats are reconsidering once-contentious ideas.

In 2014, Sweden, which has a large Palestinian community, became the first EU member in Western Europe to recognise Palestinian statehood. It had earlier been recognised by six other European countries: Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania.

Meanwhile, Arab states hailed the decision to recognise a Palestinian state and urged other countries to follow suit. Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which borders the war-ravaged Gaza Strip, were among the Middle East countries that praised the move, having called for a two-state solution for decades. Saudi Arabia called it a “positive decision” that “affirms the international consensus on the inherent right of the Palestinian people to self-determination”. The Gulf kingdom said it “calls on the rest of the countries to quickly make the same decision”. Saudi Arabia has signaled it is prepared to establish relations with Israel under a proposed US-brokered deal, with the strict condition of irrevocable steps towards Palestinian statehood.

Egypt, which has engaged in mediation efforts between Israel and Hamas, alongside Qatar and the United States, also hailed move as a “welcome step”. The announcement supports “international efforts to create a political horizon that can lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state”, the Egyptian statement said.

Mediator Qatar similarly welcomed the announcement as an “important step in support of a two-state solution”, also expressing hope that other countries would do the same. Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi expressed hopes that “these decisions will be part of a wider movement that... places all countries in the world and the region on a clear path towards a just and comprehensive peace”.

The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council also supported the European countries’ move, with Secretary General Jasem Mohamed Albudaiwi calling it “a pivotal and strategic step towards achieving the two-state solution”. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation also welcomed the move as an “important historic step”.

Meanwhile, the White House said it opposed “unilateral recognition” of a Palestinian state after Ireland, Norway and Spain announced they would establish relations but warned Israel against withholding funds in retaliation. President Joe Biden “has been on the record supporting a two-state solution,” his national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, told reporters. “He has been equally emphatic on the record that that two-state solution should be brought about through direct negotiations through the parties, not through unilateral recognition,” he said.

He stopped short of criticizing the decision to formally recognize the State of Palestine by the three European countries, all close allies of the United States. “Each country is entitled to make its own determinations, but the US position on this is clear,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said that funds should keep going to the Palestinian Authority which the Biden administration wants to strengthen in hopes it can assume control of Gaza from Hamas. “I think it’s wrong on a strategic basis, because withholding funds destabilizes the West Bank,” Sullivan said of Israeli moves to stop funds. “It undermines the search for security and prosperity for the Palestinian people which is in Israel’s interests, and, I think, it’s wrong to withhold funds that provide basic goods and services to innocent people,” he said.