Spain, Ireland and Norway to recognise Palestinian state as EU's rift with Israel widens

For decades, formal recognition of a Palestinian state has been seen as the endgame of a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
From right, Norway's Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, Spain's Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares Bueno and Ireland's Foreign Minister Micheál Martin pose for a photo, at the end of a media conference, during talks on the Middle East, in Brussels, Monday, May 27, 2024.
From right, Norway's Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, Spain's Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares Bueno and Ireland's Foreign Minister Micheál Martin pose for a photo, at the end of a media conference, during talks on the Middle East, in Brussels, Monday, May 27, 2024.Photo | AP

MADRID: Spain, Ireland and Norway will formally recognise a Palestinian state on Tuesday in a decision slammed by Israel as a "reward" for Hamas more than seven months into the devastating Gaza war.

The three European countries believe their initiative has a strong symbolic impact, which is likely to encourage others to follow suit.

They also point to Norway and Spain's historic role in advancing Israel-Palestinian peace efforts.

In 1991, the two sides sat down together for the first time at the Madrid peace conference that paved the way for the 1993 Oslo Accords.

"Recognition of the State of Palestine is not only a matter of historic justice... Is it also an essential requirement if we are all to achieve peace," Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said before meeting his cabinet.

The move, he said, was "not against anyone, least of all Israel".

"It is the only way to move towards the solution that we all recognise as the only possible way to achieve a peaceful future -- that of a Palestinian state living side-by-side with the state of Israel in peace and security."

Sanchez also said the decision reflected Spain's "outright rejection of Hamas, which is against the two-state solution" and whose October 7 attacks led to the Gaza war.

The plans were unveiled last week in a coordinated announcement by the prime ministers of the three countries.

Formal recognition was to take place in all three on Tuesday.

Both the Spanish and Irish cabinets were to meet to approve the step on Tuesday morning, while Norway informed Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Mustafa at the weekend that its recognition would also take effect on Tuesday.

Ties at crossroads amid differences within bloc

Relations between the EU and Israel nosedived Monday, the eve of the diplomatic recognition of EU members Ireland and Spain, with Madrid insisting that the EU should take action against Israel for its continued deadly attacks in southern Gaza’s city of Rafah.

Norway, which is not an EU member but often aligns its foreign policy with the bloc, handed diplomatic papers to the Palestinian government over the weekend ahead of its formal recognition of a Palestinian state.

At the same time, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, threw his weight behind supporting the International Criminal Court, whose prosecutor is seeking an arrest warrant against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others, including leaders of the Hamas militant group.

In his speech on Tuesday, Sánchez said that the recognition of a Palestinian state was “a decision that we do not adopt against anyone, least of all against Israel, a friendly people whom we respect, whom we appreciate and with whom we want to have the best possible relationship.”

The socialist leader, who announced his country’s decision before parliament last week, has spent months touring European and Middle Eastern countries to garner support for recognition and a cease-fire in Gaza. He called for a permanent cease-fire, for stepping up humanitarian aid into Gaza and for the release of hostages that Hamas has held since the Oct. 7 attack that triggered Israel's response.

He called for a permanent cease-fire, for stepping up humanitarian aid into Gaza and for the release of hostages that Hamas has held since the Oct. 7 attack that triggered Israel's response.

Sánchez said that the move was to back the beleaguered Palestinian National Authority, which lost effective political control of Gaza to Hamas. He laid out his vision for a state ruled by the Palestinian National Authority that must connect the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem through a corridor.

“We will not recognize changes in the 1967 border lines other than those agreed to by the parties,” Sánchez added.

“Furthermore, this decision reflects our absolute rejection of Hamas, a terrorist organization who is against the two-state solution,” Sánchez said.

“From the outset, Spain has strongly condemned the terrorist attacks of Oct. 7. This clear condemnation is the resounding expression of our steadfast commitment in the fight against terrorism. I would like to underline that starting tomorrow we would focus all our efforts to implement the two state solution and make it a reality.”

For decades, formal recognition of a Palestinian state has been seen as the endgame of a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Although Slovenia has also started the process of recognising a Palestinian state, the issue has provoked sharp disagreement within the 27-nation European Union.

Washington and most Western European nations have said they are willing to one day recognise Palestinian statehood, but not before agreement on thorny issues like the status of Jerusalem and final borders.

The spiralling bloodshed in Gaza has revived calls for Palestinians to be given their own state, with a growing number of European countries expressing a desire to do so.

Within the EU, states like France believe it is not the right time to do so, while Germany only envisages recognition following negotiations between the two sides.

Tuesday's move by Spain, Ireland and Norway will mean 145 of the United Nations' 193 member states now recognise Palestinian statehood.

These include many Middle Eastern, African and Asian countries but not the United States, Canada, most of western Europe, Australia, Japan or South Korea.

In 2014, Sweden became the first EU member to recognise a Palestinian state.

It followed in the footsteps of six other European countries that took the step before joining the bloc -- Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania.

Award for Hamas, says Israel

The decision by Madrid, Dublin and Oslo has provoked a furious response from Israel. On Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz began taking "preliminary punitive measures" against Spain, ordering its Jerusalem consulate to stop offering consular services to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

"We will not put up with harming Israel's sovereignty and security," Katz said, describing recognition of Palestinian statehood as "an award to Hamas."

On October 7, Hamas fighters stormed into southern Israel, killing more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza. The Israeli army says 37 of them are dead.

Israel's relentless retaliatory offensive has killed more than 36,000 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

On Sunday, Katz posted a video on X splicing footage of the October 7 attacks with flamenco dancing, saying: "Sanchez: Hamas thanks you for your service" in a move denounced by Spain as "scandalous and revolting".

A day earlier, Spanish Defence Minister Margarita Robles accused Israel of committing "a real genocide" in Gaza.

Until now, such language had only been heard from far-left ministers of Sanchez's coalition but not from a member of his Socialist party.

"Some have framed our decision to recognise the state of Palestine as... a reward for terror. Nothing could be further from the truth," Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said on Monday.

With the move, Dublin, Madrid and Oslo want "to see a future of normalised relations between the two peoples" and to implement a two-state solution, he said.

(With inputs from AFP and AP)

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