No more 'tragic mistakes': Warning to Israel as three European states recognise Palestine

Spain, Ireland and Norway formally recognise Palestinian statehood

Palestinians whose tents were destroyed by Israeli bombs in a camp west of Rafah. Israel has been warned that ‘human catastrophe’ can no longer be blamed on military mistakes. AP
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Three European countries formally recognised the state of Palestine on Tuesday in a symbolic move meant to show a way out of the war in the Middle East.

Ireland warned Israel that it must not keep blaming civilian suffering on “tragic mistakes” as the European nation joined Spain and Norway in making good on a recognition pledge last week.

The decision, signed off at cabinet meetings on Tuesday, is Europe's most significant step to revive a two-state solution after almost eight months of war in Gaza.

As Oslo's recognition went into effect, Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide hailed the move as “a special day for Norway-Palestine relations”.

After Spain's cabinet backed the move, Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said it was a day that would be “etched in Spain's history”.

Despite opposition from Israel, it is hoped the move will spur momentum and encourage others to take “practical actions” towards peace, said Irish premier Simon Harris.

He said the “historic and important decision” was taking place against a backdrop of “ongoing human catastrophe” that Israel could not keep attributing to mistakes.

“This decision of Ireland is about keeping hope alive,” Mr Harris said shortly after a cabinet meeting approved the move.

“We had wanted to recognise Palestine at the end of a peace process, however we have made this move alongside Spain and Norway to keep the miracle of peace alive.”

Anger over the war intensified after an Israeli strike killed 45 people sheltering in Rafah and produced harrowing images of their camp on fire.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was a “tragic mishap” that will be investigated. Gaza's Health Ministry has said more than 36,000 people have been killed since the start of the war.

“We now have a new despicable and disgusting trend emerging where … when absolute horror seems to take place, the Prime Minister of Israel comes out and describes it as a ‘tragic mistake’,” Mr Harris said.

“April’s ‘tragic mistake’ was the bombing to death of aid workers trying to provide food to starving mouths, May’s ‘tragic mistake' … was children being blown to death while seeking protection in a displaced centre.

“What will June’s ‘tragic mistake’ be? And more importantly, what does the world now intend to stop it happening?"

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the recognition is “not only a matter of historic justice” but “also an essential requirement if we are all to achieve peace”.

He said the decision was “not against anyone, least of all Israel” as he vowed not to recognise changes to pre-1967 borders without consent from both sides.

The acknowledgement covers a single Palestinian state made up of Gaza and the West Bank, led by the Palestinian National Authority and with East Jerusalem as its capital.

While Israel says the move rewards the violence of October 7, Mr Sanchez said it reflects Spain's “outright rejection of Hamas, which is against the two-state solution”.

The Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under Israeli military occupation, has welcomed the decision.

Israel has already recalled its ambassadors from the three countries and accused them of siding with Hamas and Iran.

Representatives for Spain, Ireland and Norway were summoned to a “reprimand conversation” to watch footage of Hamas kidnapping Israeli women.

“Sanchez … you are complicit in incitement to genocide against the Jewish people and in war crimes,” Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on Tuesday.

Slovenia and Malta have signalled they will soon sign a joint declaration with Spain, Ireland and Norway.

Last week, Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Golob said that “the more countries that join us, the greater will be our leverage over both sides to achieve a truce and the release of hostages”.

A total of 140 countries recognise Palestine but most western powers such as the US, UK and Germany have not done so.

In Britain, politicians on both sides of the imminent general election have said they support statehood in principle but only when the time is right.

Last month, the US vetoed a UN resolution on statehood, while Germany has long been a key backer of Israel due to remorse over the Holocaust.

But there is growing concern at an EU level with how Israel is conducting its offensive in Gaza, which is the subject of genocide and war crimes allegations.

After an EU meeting on Monday, Ireland's Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said there was “significant discussion on sanctions” on Israel for the first time.

The meeting ended with EU diplomats agreeing to call Israel to an association council to discuss the situation in Gaza.

“We have an association agreement that is effectively a trade benefit agreement between Europe and Israel,” Mr Harris said.

“I am very confident that the overwhelming majority of people in this country would like to see that agreement reviewed from a human rights point of view.”

The EU's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell meanwhile sided with the International Court of Justice by saying Israel must comply with its ruling to halt its offensive in Rafah.

Norway is not in the EU but pursues a similar foreign policy and handed diplomatic papers to the Palestinian government at the weekend.

Spain and Norway have a historic role in the peace process after negotiations in Madrid in 1991 paved the way for the Oslo Accords two years later.

Ireland has long championed the Palestinian cause, seeing a similarity to its own push for independence from Britain.

Tuesday's decision makes Spain and Ireland the second and third countries, after Sweden in 2014, to recognise Palestine while a member of the EU.

Some others such as Poland and Hungary recognised Palestine while under communist rule in the 1980s.

Updated: May 28, 2024, 5:27 PM