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'Direct talks, not unilateral recognition': US on European countries recognising Palestinian statehood

The US maintained that it supports a two-state solution for Palestine, but stressed that it should come through direct talks between all parties. The recognition of Palestinian statehood by Norway, Ireland and Spain, with other countries expected to follow suit, has deepened Israel's isolation.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Washington Published on: May 23, 2024 9:28 IST
Israel Hamas war, Spain
Image Source : AP Demonstrators march during a protest in support of Palestinians in Barcelona, Spain.

Washington: The United States on Wednesday weighed in on the recognition of Palestine as an independent state by European countries amid the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, saying that a two-state solution for Palestine must come through direct talks and not "unilateral recognition". This came after Norway, Ireland and Spain announced that they would formally recognise Palestine as an independent state, despite strong opposition from Israel.

Addressing the situation in a regular press briefing, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said, "Each country is entitled to make its own determinations. But the US position on this is clear. President Biden... has been on the record supporting a two-state solution.  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.  That’s a principled position that we have held on a consistent basis."

Sullivan also reiterated Biden's position that a two-state solution that guarantees Israel’s security and also a future of dignity and security for the Palestinian people is the best way to bring about long-term security and stability for everyone in the region. The two-state solution is supported by several countries across the world, including India and China.

US on Israel's deepening isolation

The steps taken by the three European countries, with more expected to follow a similar route, have deepened Israel's international isolation as it is already under pressure over the mounting death count from the war in Gaza. Much of the international support was with Israel when Hamas-led militants attacked the country on October 7, but it has faded as the casualties from Israel's retaliation crossed 35,000.

Asked whether the US is concerned about Israel's diplomatic isolation and how it may impact the deal with Saudi Arabia to recognise the country, Sullivan said, "As a country that stands strong in defense of Israel in international forums like the United Nations, we certainly have seen a growing chorus of voices, including voices that had previously been in support of Israel, drift in another direction.  That is of concern to us because we do not believe that that contributes to Israel’s long-term security or vitality."

He also expressed US concerns about Israel's ongoing invasion in Rafah, which has extended to dense urban areas. The NSA said Israel should adopt a strategic approach to defeating Hamas, protecting civilians, surging humanitarian assistance and pursuing a vision of regional integration to revitalise a lot of partnerships and friendships.

Withholding funds from Palestinian Authority 'wrong': US

Meanwhile, Israel reacted angrily to the recognition of Palestinian statehood by withholding funds from the Palestinian Authority, which evoked a discontent reaction from Washington. "I think it’s wrong on a strategic basis because withholding funds destabilises the West Bank.  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," Sullivan added.

Squeezed by Israel, the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority in the West Bank struggles to pay its own civil servants. However, the step taken by Norway, Ireland and Spain follows a steady build-up of problems, from Washington's warnings over withholding arms if the war in Gaza continues and sanctions against violent settlers to accusations of genocide before the International Court of Justice and a possible arrest warrant for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the International Criminal Court.

"The intention of several European countries to recognize a Palestinian state is a reward for terrorism," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has long resisted the so-called two-state solution and his resistance has increased since he went into government with a clutch of hard right religious nationalist parties at the end of 2022. "This would be a terrorist state. It would try to carry out the October 7 massacre again and again - and that, we shall not agree to." Israel also recalled its ambassadors from the three countries.

What will the European countries do?

The move by the European countries, described as "symbolic", will have little practical impact either in the ruins of Gaza or the occupied West Bank. Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said the only possible political solution between Israelis and Palestinians was "two states living side by side in peace and security". 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.

The decision by the three European countries was welcomed by the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and by Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since driving the PA out of the enclave in 2007. About 144 of the 193 member-states of the United Nations recognise Palestine as a state, including most of the global south, Russia, China and India.

Britain, Australia and EU members Malta and Slovenia have indicated in recent months that they could soon follow suit. Jan Egeland, who was part of the Norwegian diplomatic team that helped broker the Oslo Peace Accords in the 1990s, said the announcement by the European trio, though "symbolic", was a message to Israel that the occupation of Palestinian territories had to end.

(with inputs from Reuters)

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