Palestinians welcome European recognition but fear Israeli reprisal

Norway, Spain and Ireland hailed for recognising a Palestinian state but priority is ending the war in Gaza

Palestinians wave the national flag during a march in the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank in 2022. AFP
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Palestinians reacted with mixed emotions to Norway, Spain and Ireland formally recognising a Palestinian state on Wednesday.

The decision increases the number of nations that acknowledge Palestine to at least 143, piling yet more international pressure on Israel, including from key allies, as it faces mounting criticism over its conduct during the war in Gaza.

Palestinian leaders have long sought international recognition to reflect their right to self-determination and as part of a decades-long process to reach a two-state solution aimed at ending the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.

But doubts remain as to whether the decision will bring an immediate improvement to the dire situation facing Palestinians today, as Israel continues with its heavy attacks in Gaza and increasingly draconian military activities in the occupied West Bank.

Akram Al Shawa, 40, originally from Gaza city but who now lives in Rafah in the south, told The National: “This recognition is symbolic and will not change anything in our lives.

"It could be positive for us as a way to increase the chances of a political solution between Hamas and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, but we also need new leaders who can take advantage of the world’s support to build a new vision for the Palestinian people and to make sure everyone's rights are respected," he added.

Daood Aboud, 60, who has fled to the town of Al Mawasi in southern Gaza, said: “The world has been silent, just watching what is happening to us for a long time.

"If they had taken action earlier, maybe this wouldn’t be our fate.

"Will their recognition end the war? We want the war to end, that’s all we are waiting for. These countries just want to containment of their people’s anger and to show they are offering something for us. Unfortunately, their actions come too late."

Former Palestinian politician Ghassan Khatib says he fears Israel will respond to the news with more aggression.

“Whenever there is pressure on Israel it reacts by more sanctions on the Palestinian Authority and Palestinians,” he said.

The PA's former Minister of Labour still welcomed the recognition, because it is “the only way to realise the concept of a two-state solution".

"Israel does not like the idea of a two-state solution, so the only serious way to get one is through the pressure of recognition of a Palestinian state,” Mr Khatib.

Around the time of Norway, Spain and Ireland’s announcement, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said he would repeal a law in order to expand illegal settlements in the north of the West Bank.

Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich also called for the end to an arrangement whereby PA tax funds collected by Israel are transferred to Oslo, saying the transfers have been suspended "until further notice” and that Norway "cannot be a partner" in anything related to the West Bank.

Nonetheless, Palestinian analyst Nour Odeh described the recognitions as “extremely significant” and “a very clear condemnation of Israel’s policies not just in terms of the Gaza war but in terms of its sense of entitlement over the years”.

“There are two ways to deal with a bully. The right way is to confront. These recognitions do that,” she said.

"The wrong way is to placate him, which is what the world has been doing for the last 30 years, and look where it got us: settlers increasing in number from 100,000 to nearly 800,000; Israel going further to the right and now outright rejecting an end to the occupation or even denying there is one in the first place; committing genocide in Gaza.

"I think these three countries understood that without a fundamental shift in approach and policy they cannot credibly claim to be supporting the two-state formula and Palestinian rights,” she added.

“Frankly, it’s also a step that reflects public opinion in those countries.”

Ms Odeh also believes the move will put pressure on other western states to acknowledge Palestine.

“This momentum could force a shift in the thinking and approach that especially the Americans are taking,” she said.

“If allies take actions like this, the US can’t be confined to its hypocritical comfort zone on the issue any more and that is a very good thing.”

The move could also put pressure on France, a permanent member of the UN Security Council which has been “flirting with the idea of recognition for some time”, Ms Odeh said.

“This would fundamentally shift the mood at the Security Council. You would have a majority of permanent members that recognise Palestine. It would tip the political discussion at least, although you still have to deal with the veto.”

Updated: May 22, 2024, 3:52 PM