Spanish and Irish leaders to discuss push for Palestinian statehood

Nine out of 27 EU countries recognise a Palestinian state and momentum is growing for new announcements

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks with his Norway counterpart Jonas Gahr Store in Oslo. EPA
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Spain and Ireland are intensifying efforts across Europe for countries to recognise Palestinian statehood with a view to establishing a “coalition” that would increase political pressure on Israel to accept a two-state solution.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez landed in Oslo on Friday before travelling onwards to Dublin as part of a week-long tour to gather support for his plan to recognise a Palestine as a state.

"It is time to move from words to deeds," said Mr Sanchez, standing beside his Norwegian counterpart Jonas Gahr Store.

"The recognition of the state of Palestine and mutual recognition between Israel and Palestine are key elements for the implementation of a two state solution. The gravity of the situation demands bold actions from the international community," added Mr Sanchez.

The Spanish Prime Minister is scheduled to travel next week to Slovenia and Belgium, which have also said they would consider such a move.

Mr Sanchez's efforts to set up what has been described as “coalition” of western countries has triggered criticism from Israel but is viewed by his supporters as a condition for the peace process to succeed.

It was discussed on Thursday at Irish Taoiseach Simon Harris's first meeting since his appointment with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“It’s up to every country to decide whether they wish to be part of a potential coalition of European member states that would recognise the |Palestinian] state, but I believe it’s highly likely it’ll be more than just Ireland and Spain,” Mr Harris told reporters.

Nine out of 27 European Union countries recognise the state of Palestine but only Sweden has done so recently, in 2014.

A number of Eastern European countries that recognised Palestine in 1988, including the Czech Republic and Hungary, are today among Israel's closest allies and have slowed down EU sanctions on violent Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank in the past weeks after the US, the UK and France led the way.

Last month, Israel told Spain, Ireland, Slovenia and Malta that a joint call to recognise Palestinian statehood would amount to a “prize for terrorism” that would reduce the chances of a negotiated resolution to the decades-old conflict.

Mr Sanchez has argued that recognising the state of Palestine must be done at an international peace conference.

“This momentum has to be different to the others we witnessed over the past seven decades,” Mr Sanchez said last week. Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister Jose Manuel Albares said his country was ready to do so by July.

The recognition of the state of Palestine is an important political signal but probably not enough to significantly impact Israeli and US diplomacy, warned Martin Konecny, director of Brussels-based think tank the European Middle East Project.

“It will symbolically reinforce the idea of a Palestinian state as something the Palestinians have a legitimate right to. This is important in the face of Israeli and US Republican denial of that right,” Mr Konecny told The National.

“But it's insufficient as it doesn't reverse the expansion of Israeli settlements that is making the Palestinian state increasingly impossible on the ground.”

Some observers are calling for sanctioning the Israeli state, not settlers living illegally on land that was supposed to constitute a future Palestinian state, because they benefit from the support of the Israeli state and army.

About 700,000 settlers live in the occupied West Bank, where violence against Palestinians is increasing.

While Slovenia and Norway – which is not an EU member – are to join Ireland and Spain in recognising Palestinian statehood, all eyes are now on diplomatic heavyweights such as the UK, the US, and France.

French President Emmanuel Macron said recently that the topic was “no longer taboo” but Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Sejourne said this week that he did “not believe that it is useful to do it alone without a peace process”.

What impact the recognition of Palestinian statehood would have on postwar discussions remains hard to measure. “It will give a bit of a boost to the Palestinian Authority, but it is not clear whether it will have impact on those discussions,” said Mr Konecny.

Israel has reacted with fury to the Spanish and Irish-led initiative. The Israeli government does not support the idea of a Palestinian state, a position that further hardened after the Hamas-led October 7 attacks against Israel.

In an op-ed published in the Irish Times, Israel's ambassador to Ireland, Dana Erlich, wrote on Thursday that “a unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state at this point sends a dangerous signal to Hamas and its supporters, since it will be viewed as rewarding terrorism”.

“Any future workable agreement or resolution to the wider conflict is one that must be arrived at by the parties to it, and should be addressed separately from the current war,” added Ms Erlich.

Updated: April 12, 2024, 1:52 PM