Spain, Ireland and Norway formally recognize the Palestinian State

James Landale,diplomatic correspondent, @BBCJLandale

Niall Carson/PA Wire A Palestinian flag flies outside Leinster House, Dublin, following the Government's decision to formally recognize the State of Palestine.  Photo date: Tuesday May 28, 2024Niall Carson/PA Wire

A Palestinian flag was raised in front of the Irish Parliament building to mark the decision.

Spain, Ireland and Norway have formally recognized a Palestinian state, in what they say is an attempt to refocus attention on efforts to find a political solution to the war in the Middle East.

They hope that by acting together they will encourage other European countries to follow suit, in a diplomatic push that could help secure a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of hostages held by Hamas.

The symbolic decision has sparked a furious dispute with Israel’s government, which has accused the three countries of rewarding terrorism.

Israel withdrew its ambassadors from Ireland, Norway and Spain and formally reprimanded its envoys in Tel Aviv. The three were summoned to Israel’s Foreign Ministry last week to be shown footage of the October 7 attacks to the media.

The recognition of Palestine by the three countries also increases diplomatic pressure on Israel after two international courts called for an end to Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operations in southern Gaza and charged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of war crimes.

Western countries have also stepped up sanctions on Israeli settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The diplomatic recognition process varies between countries, but typically involves a formal exchange of credentials with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

Existing consulates or missions in the West Bank or East Jerusalem then become formal embassies, while representatives become full-fledged ambassadors.

The three countries said they recognized a Palestinian state based on borders established before the 1967 war, with Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and Palestine.

The Palestinian flag flew over Ireland’s parliament as TDs set aside four hours to debate the issue. Before the Cabinet where the formal decision would be made, Taioseach (Prime Minister) Simon Harris said it was a “historic and important” measure.

He said he hoped other European countries would follow suit because they had to use all the levers at their disposal to encourage a ceasefire.

“This is an important moment and I think it sends a signal to the world that there are practical actions that can be taken as a country to help keep alive the hope and destiny of a two-state solution at a time when others are sadly trying to to bomb it into oblivion,” Harris said.

When Norway’s formal recognition came into effect, Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said it was “a special day for relations between Norway and Palestine.”

BORJA PUIG DE LA BELLACASA/PRIMER MINISTERIO DE ESPAÑOL / HANDOUT Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez delivers a speech on Spain's recognition of the Palestinian state at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain, on May 28, 2024.BORJA PUIG DE LA BELLACASA/PRIME MINISTER OF SPAIN / BROCHURE

Pedro Sánchez assured that the announcement “is not against anyone, least of all against Israel”

Ahead of Spain’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said that recognizing Palestine was “not only a matter of historical justice” but was also “an essential requirement if we all want to achieve peace.”

He insisted that Spain was not acting against Israel and was opposed to Hamas, which opposed a two-state solution.

Israel seems angrier with Spain. Its Foreign Minister, Israel Katz, has posted a video on social media showing flamenco dancing and music juxtaposed with explicit images of the October 7 attack, with the words: “Hamas: thank you Spain.”

Spain condemned the message as “scandalous and disgusting.” Katz posted similar videos about Ireland and Norway.

The dispute deepened when Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Díaz publicly called for Palestinians to be “free from the river to the sea,” a controversial phrase that many Israelis consider anti-Semitic and a call for the total destruction of the State of Israel.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Katz responded Tuesday, comparing Diaz to Hamas commander Mohamed Sinwar and Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei. He told Mr. Sánchez that if he did not fire his deputy, he “would be participating in the incitement to commit genocide and war crimes against the Jewish people.”

Diplomats suspect that Israel has responded forcefully toward Spain, Ireland and Norway to discourage other countries from following its example.

Slovenia, Malta and Belgium have indicated in recent months that they might also recognize Palestine. But the Belgian government appears to have cooled on the idea ahead of the election.

NICOLAS MAETERLINCK/BELGA MAG/AFP Prime Minister Alexander De Croo speaks with Belgian social workers in support of Belgian citizens crossing the border during a visit to the city of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, in the State of Palestine, on Friday, November 24, 2023.NICOLAS MAETERLINCK/BELGA MAG/AFP

The Belgian prime minister has recently cooled off on the idea of ​​recognizing a Palestinian state.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said he wanted to wait until Belgium could recognize Palestine alongside major European nations to have a greater impact. “Symbolism solves nothing,” he said.

Most countries – some 139 in total – formally recognize a Palestinian state.

On May 10, 143 of the 193 members of the United Nations general assembly voted in favor of a Palestinian candidacy for full membership of the UN, something that is only open to states.

Palestine currently has a form of enhanced observer status at the UN, giving it a seat but not a vote in the assembly. It is also recognized by several international organizations, including the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

A minority of European countries already recognize a Palestinian state. They include former Soviet nations such as Hungary, Poland, Romania, Czechia, Slovakia and Bulgaria, which adopted the position in 1988; and others, including Sweden and Cyprus.

But many European countries – and the United States – say they will recognize a Palestinian state only as part of a long-term political solution to the Middle East conflict.

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