Recognising Palestine cannot wait any longer, says Slovenian Foreign Minister

Tanja Fajon calls for increased pressure on Israel to stop war in Gaza and hints at potential European sanctions

Tanja Fajon, Slovenia’s Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, called for international pressure on the Israeli government to stop the war in Gaza. Photo: Slovenian Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs
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Tanja Fajon, Slovenia’s Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, said her country, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, is advocating other European nations join it in recognising a Palestinian state.

In an exclusive interview with The National in Abu Dhabi, Ms Fajon defended Slovenia's decision to recognise Palestine and called for international pressure on the Israeli government to end the war raging in Gaza.

“I believe it is the right time,” said Ms Fajon. “If we wait longer, then I think that it is going to be lost, or there will no more be an opportunity, and who knows how many Palestinians will still be in Gaza.”

Israel’s devastating war against Hamas has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, Gaza's health authorities said. The war broke out on October 7 after Hamas attacked southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people and abducting dozens as hostages.

None of the EU's 27 states formally recognise Palestine, but the brutal war has prompted calls to revitalise the Middle East peace process by bringing Palestinian statehood closer. Now, Slovenia, Spain and Ireland are moving towards this recognition.

“I'm really glad to see that our government had this courage in these days to launch the procedure for the recognition of Palestine,” said Mrs Fajon, adding that, while the parliament will have the final say, her country is also trying “to pursue our international partners to follow us”.

“We are also creating pressure on our EU partners and other partners to follow us and I believe that this process, in Slovenia at least, was an important step and an irreversible step, and I do hope that we will also convince others.”

Last week, the UN General Assembly voted in favour of supporting Palestine's bid for full UN membership. The resolution, introduced by the UAE and proposed in the name of 22 Arab countries, was co-sponsored by about 65 states. The US, Israel and seven other members rejected it.

Ms Fajon thinks it is time to apply pressure on all sides, including Israel, to end the war that has led, in her opinion, to “severe violations” of international humanitarian law and human rights law.

She emphasised the need to “increase the pressure on all involved to restrain from further hostilities”, adding that, while Israel has a right of self-defence, “this right at some point stops when it crosses the line”.

“The tool today is to have pressure on the government in Israel,” said Ms Fajon.

The Pentagon confirmed last week that it had paused a shipment of weapons to Israel amid an intensifying assault on Rafah. And President Joe Biden said he would halt other weapons transfers to Israel if it were to invade the southern Gaza city.

In the pipeline

When questioned about potential European sanctions on Israel, the Slovenian minister hinted at continuing discussions regarding this matter. “You asked me if there is a time for sanctions against Israel. It is in the pipeline. It is a discussion also inside the European Union, but they always need a certain consensus,” she said.

Asked if the sanctions being discussed are economic, political or diplomatic, the minister said: “I believe it's a combination of all."

However, this unprecedented step would need to consider multilayered factors before it is decided.

“There are historical reasons. There are economic reasons. There are many reasons. We are having also European elections at the beginning of June. So there is a lot of consideration about the timing, about what will it bring, and is it a good moment,” she told The National.

The International Court of Justice ordered Israel in January to refrain from any acts that could fall under the Genocide Convention and to ensure its troops commit no genocidal acts against Palestinians, after a case was put forward by South Africa.

Egypt said on Sunday it was joining the case and Ms Fajon hinted at taking a similar direction.

“In regard to the case of South Africa, we are still considering. The government hasn't taken the final step. But it is possible to be moving toward the direction to also join the South African case. The decision hasn't been taken yet.”

Slovenia became a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in January for the second time in its history. Following its successful election by a majority of 153 votes, and after three months as an observer, it will participate in decisions during the 2024–2025 term.

Its agenda is focused on peace, security, climate change, poverty and women's empowerment.

Ms Fajon is her country’s first female foreign minister. “We need women in equal numbers on high positions in politics, in business, but we are the far away from that,” she said. "It is a longer journey for a woman to be in politics."

The Slovenian minister, who visited Egypt and was heading to Saudi Arabia, is touring the region to also call for strengthening ties with the Middle East, especially the Gulf and the UAE where there is possibility for bigger investments and collaboration in different field including artificial intelligence.

“It's a region that is developing fast, so it offers also a lot of opportunities, and hopefully our little country with our know-how of specific areas can also share this knowledge,” she said.

Updated: May 13, 2024, 6:02 PM