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Spain, Norway and Ireland will formally recognise Palestinian statehood. Here's why that matters

The move has deepened Israel's diplomatic isolation amid widespread criticism over its conduct in the Gaza war, in which 36,000 Palestinians have been killed. However, the symbolic move is unlikely to have any impact on the war as peace talks between Israel and Hamas remain stalled.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Madrid (Spain) Published on: May 28, 2024 14:51 IST
Spain, Norway, Ireland
Image Source : AP From (L-R): Norwegian PM Jonas Gahr Stone, Irish PM Simon Harris and Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez

In a move that signals a deepening rift between the European Union and Israel, the countries of Spain, Norway and Ireland are moving to formally recognise a Palestinian state on Tuesday, marking a step towards long-held Palestinian aspiration that has been fuelled by international outrage over mounting civilian deaths and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza in the course of the nearly eight-month-long war. The move has infuriated Israel, which has recalled its ambassadors from the three European countries.

Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris called it a “historic and important day for Ireland and for Palestine,” saying the announcements had been coordinated and other countries might join. There cannot be peace in the Middle East if there is no recognition," said Norwegian PM Jonas Gahr Stone on Wednesday.

It is pertinent to mention that 139 out of 193 UN member states have recognised Palestinian statehood, but these steps could build momentum at a time when even close allies of Israel have criticised the country over its conduct in Gaza. Although Norway is not a member of the EU, it helped broker the Oslo Accords which was the first step in the peace talks between Israel and Palestine.

Discussions over the recognition of Palestinian statehood have been underway for weeks in some European countries, with proponents arguing that the war has shown the need for a new push toward a two-state solution, 15 years after negotiations collapsed between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long resisted Palestinian statehood and said the steps taken by Norway, Ireland and Spain award a "gold medal" to terrorism.

Why is this important?

Currently, seven members of the 27-nation European Union officially recognize a Palestinian state. Five of them are former East Bloc countries that announced recognition in 1988, while Sweden followed suit in 2014. EU members Malta and Slovenia say they may follow suit, though not immediately.

A UN partition in 1947 called for the creation of a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian side, citing long-standing demands from the Jewish community and the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. However, the move was widely rejected by Palestinians and Arab countries as it would have given them less than half of the land even though Palestinians made up two-thirds of the population.

Successive wars followed the establishment of Israel, and the latter seized all three territories in the 1967 Six-Day War. Decades of on-again, off-again peace talks had failed. The US, Israel's closest ally, along with Britain and other Western countries have backed the idea of an independent Palestinian state but have insisted that such a situation should come as part of a negotiated settlement, and there have been no substantial negotiations since 2009.

Though the EU countries and Norway won’t be recognising an existing state, just the possibility of one, the symbolism helps enhance the Palestinians’ international standing and heaps more pressure on Israel to open negotiations on ending the war. The move also lends additional prominence to the Middle East issue ahead of the June 6-9 elections to the European Parliament. It also deepens Israel's diplomatic isolation as its military offensive has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians in Gaza.

How does it matter?

Diplomatic pressure on Israel has risen as the UN General Assembly voted by a significant margin on May 11 to grant new "rights and privileges" to Palestine, which has observer status at the UN, a sign of growing international support for a vote on full voting membership. As the war enters its eighth month, the leaders of Spain, Ireland, Malta and Slovenia said they were considering recognising a Palestinian state as “a positive contribution” toward ending the war.

The move exerts additional pressure on Israel after the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan sought arrest warrants against Netanyahu and his defence chief Yoav Gallant. This was followed by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordering Israel to stop its latest campaign in Rafah, where a million Palestinians were taking refuge and thousands were forced to flee.

“This is a historic decision that has a single goal, and that is to help Israelis and Palestinians achieve peace,” said Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez. However, this is largely seen as a "symbolic" gesture as none of the Western countries have so far recognised Palestinian statehood, leading to uncertainty about the implications of this step. Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said he did not expect the recognition to stop the war in Gaza, but it was "a key component" for an Arab-led peace initiative.

Regardless, their recognition would mark a significant accomplishment for the Palestinians, who believe it confers international legitimacy on their struggle. Norway said it will upgrade its representative’s office for Palestine to an embassy but it was not clear what Ireland and Spain would do. However, little is expected to change on the ground in the short term as Israel is set on its goal to eradicate Hamas and peace talks remain stalled.

Israel's response to recognition of Palestinian statehood

The most expected reaction came from Israel, which rejects any move to legitimize the Palestinians internationally. Israel recalled its ambassadors to Ireland, Norway and Spain after they announced the decision last week and Netanyahu criticised the move as a "reward for terrorism". Israel also froze tax transfers to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, which it normally does.

Israel's Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said he would stop transferring tax revenue earmarked for the PA, a move that threatens to handicap its already waning ability to pay salaries to thousands of employees. US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the cutoff was “wrong” because it “destabilizes the West Bank” and undermines “the search for security and prosperity for the Palestinian people.”

Hamas-led militants stormed across the border on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking some 250 hostage. Out of these, over a 100 hostages are still believed to be in Gaza, with 30 of them being killed in the war. Meanwhile, the US said that the recognition of Palestine as an independent state should come through direct talks and not unilateral recognition.

President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, welcomed the decisions and called on other nations to “recognise our legitimate rights and support the struggle of our people for liberation and independence.”Hamas, viewed as a terrorist organisation by Western countries, is a rival to the PA and has indicated that it might agree to a state on the 1967 lines.

(with inputs from agencies)

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