All European countries must recognise Palestine, says senior Palestinian official

Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa is in Brussels to discuss his government’s plans, including its reform agenda, with European officials

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa at a press conference at the Permanent Representation of Spain to the European Union in Brussels, on May 26, 2024. (Photo by SIMON WOHLFAHRT  /  AFP)
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Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa on Sunday asked all European countries to recognise a Palestinian state to keep the possibility of a two-state solution “alive”.

Mr Mustafa was speaking ahead of a meeting in Brussels with senior European officials to strengthen support for the Palestinian Authority amid renewed calls for Israel to withhold from punitive actions after the recent recognition of Palestinian statehood by Spain, Ireland and Norway.

“We obviously are grateful and very pleased to have three European countries to join 143 other countries in this recognition, but we obviously want to have every country in Europe to do the same,” Mr Mustafa said at a joint press conference with Spain’s Foreign Affairs Minister Jose Manuel Albares.

“I understand a number of countries are hesitant about it, not because they think Palestinians don’t deserve their own state. I think they want this to be at the end of a peace process.

“We tell them frankly that it’s very important to keep the process alive. And to keep the two-state solution as a viable option in the future, recognition is the right thing to do now.”

Standing alongside Mr Mustafa, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said a “strong” PA is needed to bring peace in the Middle East.

Mr Borrell co-chaired the meeting on Palestine with Norway's Foreign Affairs Minister Espen Barth Eide to discuss with international donors how to rebuild a Palestinian administration that can take over governing Gaza from Hamas.

We have to strengthen the voice of the moderate people
Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister Espen Barth Eide

Named the International Partners' Meeting on Palestine, the gathering is a one-off event that replaces the bi-annual Ad Hoc Liaison Committee in the absence of Israel.

Norway is not an EU country but has been heavily involved in Israel-Palestine peace talks since the Oslo Accords.

Representatives from the UN were also expected at the meeting, which was held under wraps until the last minute, at 2.30pm CET, due to security concerns.

“A functional Palestinian Authority is in Israel's interest too, because in order to make peace, we need a strong Palestinian Authority, not a weaker one,” said Mr Borrell.

The Spanish diplomat criticised increased attacks by Israelis settlers against humanitarian aid convoys meant for Gaza. The attackers “are heavily armed”, said Mr Borrell. In an apparent reference to the Israeli army, he added: “The question is: who is arming them? And who is not preventing these attacks from happening?”

PA to become an 'embryo of a state'

Mr Borrell also criticised “unprecedented Israeli settlements expansions and land grabbing”. Attacks against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank perpetrated by Israeli army and extremist settlers have increased since October 7. Most of the international community says the area, which is expected to be part of a future Palestinian state, is illegally occupied by Israel since the 1967 war.

Mr Eide called on Israel to release tax revenue that it collects and transfers to Norway on behalf of the PA. The measure was announced in retaliation to the recent triple recognition of Palestinian statehood.

“Israel has to live up to its promises to make sure that Palestinian money that belongs to Palestine, which is collected on the PA’s behalf is actually transferred,” said Mr Eide.

“We have to strengthen the voice of the moderate people who actually want to get to a solution where Israelis and Palestinians alike can live peacefully together,” he added.

“That's why we need to work in support of Prime Minister Mustafa and his able and capable government and help them become the embryo of the state we not only recognise but also want to see in practice on the ground.”

The Israeli government rejects the idea of a Palestinian state and says that it in effect rewards Hamas for the attacks it led on Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people. Israel's retaliatory war on Gaza has killed more than 35,900 people.

Earlier in the day, Mr Eide gave Mr Mustafa diplomatic papers confirming Norway's recognition of the state of Palestine.

A Palestinian state should be based on pre-1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital of both Palestine and Israel as set out by the 1949 armistice agreement, according to the Norwegian government.

Mr Mustafa said that he had three priorities: supporting people in Gaza with a clear plan to restore basic services, prepare institutions for when they will govern the enclave and stabilise the economic situation.

“More than 500,000 new Palestinian workers are without jobs today: 300,000 in Gaza and 200,000 in the West Bank without any source of income,” said Mr Mustafa.

“The Israelis have not made it easier for this government by withholding significant resources. Taxes held on our behalf have not been transferred to our treasury, making it very difficult for us to provide basic services and pay nurses and teachers their deserved salaries.”

EU divisions

The US and the EU support a two-state solution to the conflict but only nine EU countries have recognised Palestine to date. Many did so in 1988 under communist rule and have since shifted alliances closer to Israel.

Sweden was, in 2014, the most recent EU country to acknowledge a Palestinian state. This caused a diplomatic row leading to Israel recalling its Swedish ambassador, as it did for its ambassadors in Ireland, Spain and Norway last week. Israel has also said it would cut ties between the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem and Palestinians in the West Bank.

Most EU countries have said they would only recognise a Palestinian state as part of a negotiated solution with Israel. Since the start of the Gaza war, the bloc's 27 countries have struggled to find consensus on the war. The first call for an eventual ceasefire was issued in March.

“Since the very beginning of the war in Gaza, Spain, together with Ireland and some other countries, have been taking … specific positions that have taken a little time in Europe to be accepted by others,” said Mr Albarez. “But very quickly [they] get close to our position and at the end we get a consensus.”

“Spain has been very firm in condemning the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7 against Israel and the action of Hamas,” said Mr Albarez. “Spain will continue demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the entry of all necessary humanitarian aid into Gaza. No one is going to intimidate us on keeping this.”

He added that recognition of Palestine is “justice for the Palestinian people, the best guarantee of security for Israel and absolutely necessary to achieve peace in the region”.

Norway, Spain and Ireland recognise State of Palestine – in pictures

The recognition of Palestinian statehood by three western countries is an important symbol that comes two days after the International Criminal Court said it would request arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and Hamas leaders.

About three quarters of the world recognises a Palestinian state but most of those holding out are in Europe and the Americas.

No Palestinian state exists on the ground today despite a 1948 UN decision to divide the UK's mandate over Palestine into two states, one for Jews and another for Arabs.

The Gaza Strip has been ruled since 2007 by Hamas, a militant group that is viewed as a terror organisation by much of the West. The West Bank is in part overseen by the PA. However, the illegal presence of up to 700,000 Israeli settlers is viewed widely as hindering the prospects of a future Palestinian state.

Updated: May 26, 2024, 4:32 PM