Spain, Ireland and Norway recognise Palestinian state

Published May 28, 2024
The flags of (from top) Norway, South Africa, Palestine, Ireland, and Spain, are raised at an entrance of Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank on May 28, 2024. — AFP
The flags of (from top) Norway, South Africa, Palestine, Ireland, and Spain, are raised at an entrance of Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank on May 28, 2024. — AFP

Spain, Ireland and Norway formally recognised the Palestinian state on Tuesday in a coordinated decision slammed by Israel as a “reward” for Hamas, more than seven months into the devastating Gaza bombardment.

The three European countries believe their initiative has a strong symbolic impact that is likely to encourage others to follow suit, defying Israel which had condemned the plan.

After Ireland’s government formally approved the measure, Prime Minister Simon Harris said the aim was to keep Middle East peace hopes alive.

“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,” he said in a statement, urging Israel to “stop the humanitarian catastrophe” 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”.

Earlier, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the recognition was “essential” for peace, insisting the move was “not against anyone, least of all Israel” and the only way to secure a future of two states living side-by-side “in peace and security”.

The decision also reflected Spain’s “outright rejection of Hamas, which is against the two-state solution” and whose October 7 attacks led to the Gaza conflict, he added.

Tuesday’s move will mean 145 of the United Nations’ 193 member states now recognise Palestinian statehood.

On October 7, Hamas fighters stormed into southern Israel in an assault that killed more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The Palestinian fighters also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza.

The Israeli army says 37 of them are dead.

Israel’s relentless retaliatory offensive, which has been globally and widely condemned, has killed more than 36,000 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.

Spain, Ireland, Norway to make ‘firm’ response to Israeli rebukes: minister

Spain, Ireland and Norway will also jointly issue a “firm” response to Israel’s angry reaction to their decision to recognise a Palestinian state, Spain’s top diplomat said.

The plans unveiled last week by the three countries drew a furious response from Israel, which has lashed out, notably online with its Foreign Minister Israel Katz posting several contentious messages on X, the former Twitter.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares accused Katz of trying to divert attention from its actions.

“I am well aware that my Israeli colleague has spent days creating provocations, posting vile false allegations on social media about our government and the Irish and Norwegian governments,” Albares said.

“I totally get his strategy […] that rather than talking about a Palestinian state, a ceasefire, releasing hostages and access to humanitarian aid, we focus on [Israel’s] online posts and provocations.”

He said the three governments would issue “a coordinated response […] which will be calm but firm.”

Israel has denounced the recognition as a “prize”.

Katz posted one video splicing footage of the violence with flamenco dancing, saying: “Sanchez: Hamas thanks you for your service.”

Spain called the post “scandalous and revolting”. But on Tuesday, Katz went even further.

“Sanchez, as long as you don’t fire your deputy and you recognise a Palestinian state, you are participating in the incitement to commit genocide and war crimes against the Jewish people,” he wrote on X.

He was referring to comments last week by Sanchez’s far-left deputy Yolanda Diaz who hailed the recognition move, saying: “We cannot stop. Palestine will be free from the river to the sea”.

Widely used at pro-Palestinian demonstrations, the slogan refers to the British mandate borders of Palestine, which stretched from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean before Israel was created in 1948.

Israel’s ambassador in Madrid denounced the remarks as a “clear call for the elimination of Israel”.

Differences within the EU

Recognising Palestinian statehood has provoked sharp disagreement within the 27-nation European Union.

For decades, formal recognition of a Palestinian state has been seen as the endgame of a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Washington and most Western European nations have said they are willing to one day recognise Palestinian statehood, but not before agreement on thorny issues like the status of Jerusalem and final borders.

The Gaza bloodshed has revived calls for Palestinians to be given their own state.

In 2014, Sweden became the first EU member to recognise a Palestinian state.

It followed six other European countries that took the step before joining the bloc: Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania.

Slovenia is expected to approve recognition on Thursday and Malta has said it is considering the move.

Britain and Australia have said they are considering recognition, but EU member France has said now is not the time, while Germany joined Israel’s staunchest ally, the United States, in rejecting a unilateral approach, insisting that a two-state solution can only be achieved through dialogue.

Norway, which chairs the international donor group to the Palestinians, until recently followed the US position but lost confidence that this strategy would work.

Spaniards have traditionally leaned toward the Palestinians. Since Israel began its offensive on Gaza in response to the Oct 7 attack, the number of Spaniards supporting a two-state solution has risen to 60 per cent in April from 40pc in 2021, according to a poll by the Real Instituto Elcano.

The decision on recognition was welcomed by Marie Antoinette Sedin, who is now the Palestinian ambassador to Norway.

“It’s a step forward to end the war, to end the occupation and to give the Palestinian people the right to exist in their own independent state, living with dignity, freedom and peace,” Sedin told Reuters.

At a protest camp at Madrid’s Complutense University, political science student Abril Armengol said recognition was the correct decision but Spain took too long to act.

“Pedro Sanchez’s decision is totally on target, but it’s a bit late,” Armengol, 22, said.

Israel has responded to the recognition move by recalling its ambassadors from Madrid, Oslo and Dublin and summoning the three countries ambassadors to watch videos of Israelis being taken hostage by Hamas gunmen.

It also blocked Spain from providing consular services to Palestinians in the West Bank and accused Spain of helping Hamas.

In response, Spain has escalated criticism, describing the Gaza conflict as a “real genocide”.

Spain said on Monday it would ask other EU members to officially back last week’s International Court of Justice order for Israel to halt its military assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

But Sanchez sought on Tuesday to ease tensions by condemning Hamas and calling for the release of hostages.

“It is not a decision we take against anyone, certainly not against Israel,” Sanchez said. “We want to have the best possible relationship.”

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