Spain, Norway and Ireland recognize the Palestinian state, further isolating Israel

Spain, Norway and Ireland said Wednesday they would recognize an independent Palestinian state, dealing a diplomatic blow to Israel that showed the country’s growing isolation on the world stage more than seven months into its devastating military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

In closely coordinated announcements, the leaders of the three countries said Palestinian independence cannot wait for a peace deal to be negotiated with Israel’s right-wing government, which is largely opposed to a two-state solution, has been expanding settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and continues to bomb Gaza without overthrowing Hamas or bringing back all its hostages.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has also frustrated world leaders – and two members of his war cabinet – with his refusal to establish a postwar plan for governing Gaza, where health authorities say more than 35,000 people have died.

Simon Harris, the Irish prime minister, linked his government’s decision to Ireland’s quest for independence from Britain. “From our own history, we know what it means: recognition is an act of powerful political and symbolic value,” he said at a news conference.

The announcements from the three countries came just days after the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court requested arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, on suspicion of war crimes. He also sought court orders for three senior Hamas leaders.

Palestinian leaders in the West Bank welcomed the three countries’ recognition as an important symbolic gesture. There have been no serious negotiations on a two-state solution for more than a decade. And some observers argue that by not recognizing a Palestinian state, the West has enabled a far-right Israeli agenda opposed to its existence.

“We believe it will help preserve the two-state solution and give Palestinians hope of having their own state alongside Israel in peace and security,” Ziad Abu Amr, a senior Palestinian official in the West Bank, said in a statement. interview.

More than 140 countries have recognized the Palestinian state. But most Western European countries and the United States have not done so, arguing that statehood can only be achieved through a negotiated agreement with Israel.

Netanyahu, who has said the establishment of a Palestinian state would represent an “existential danger” for Israel, denounced the measures on Wednesday, calling them a “reward to terrorism.” He said they “will not prevent us from achieving a victory over Hamas.”

Israel Katz, Israel’s foreign minister, said he had summoned the ambassadors of Spain, Norway and Ireland for a “severe reprimand” after their governments decided to “award a gold medal to Hamas terrorists.”

In a statement on social media, Katz said he would show ambassadors “a video of the brutal and cruel kidnapping of our daughters by Hamas terrorists, to emphasize the distorted decision their governments have made.”

He was referring to images released on Wednesday by some of the hostages’ families showing the kidnapping of female Israeli soldiers on October 7.

In the video, which was not independently verified by The New York Times, Palestinian fighters, some wearing Hamas headbands, can be seen tying the hands of five Israeli hostages who were serving as lookouts at Nahal Oz, a military base near of the border with Gaza. At least two of the hostages’ faces are bloody. The militants repeatedly threaten the soldiers.

The families said they hoped the images would pressure the Israeli government to revive apparently stalled ceasefire talks that could pave the way for the release of hostages still being held in Gaza.

“I ask you, please, show this clip every day, open your broadcasts with it, until someone wakes up, the nation wakes up and realizes that they have been abandoned there for 229 days,” said Eli Albag, whose daughter Liri can be seen in the video, he told Israel’s Channel 12.

Talks to secure the release of the more than 125 living and dead hostages have been stalled since Israel began its assault on the southern city of Rafah in early May. Israeli forces operating in northern Gaza recently recovered the bodies of four Israelis kidnapped on October 7, raising fears for the remaining captives.

In an interview on Wednesday, Jonas Gahr Støre, Norway’s prime minister, said that by offering support to Palestinians who favor democracy and a sovereign Palestine alongside Israel, Norway hoped to break what he sees as “a downward spiral, with groups militants such as Hamas setting the agenda for the Palestinian side” and the Israeli government “establishing hundreds of thousands of settlers” in occupied lands.

Norway’s support for the Palestinian state was especially important because it hosted the clandestine talks that led to the Oslo Accords, the 1993 peace framework that many hoped would resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration reiterated its view that the creation of a Palestinian state must be achieved through negotiations with the Israelis.

“The president is a strong supporter of a two-state solution and has been throughout his career,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson. “He believes that a Palestinian state should be realized through direct negotiations between the parties, not through unilateral recognition.”

Acting at least partly in response to Norway, Spain and Ireland, Bezalel Smotrich, the Israeli finance minister, said Israel would stop transferring key funds to the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank. A spokesman for his office blamed the authority’s leaders for campaigning for the recognition of Palestine in Europe.

“They are acting against Israel legally, diplomatically and seeking unilateral recognition,” said spokesman Eytan Fuld. “When they act against the State of Israel, there must be a response.”

The authority’s finances were already in disarray due to strict Israeli restrictions on its funding and a depressed economy in the West Bank stemming from the war in Gaza. This month, the authority managed to pay only 50 percent of the salaries of tens of thousands of civil servants.

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, called Smotrich’s decision to withhold funding for the Palestinian Authority “strategically wrong.”

“It undermines the Palestinian people’s quest for security and prosperity, which is to the benefit of Israel,” he said. “And I think it’s wrong to withhold funds that provide basic goods and services to innocent people.”

Mohammad Mustafa, the newly inaugurated prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, said the dire fiscal situation was contributing to a “very serious moment” in the West Bank, where more than 500 Palestinians have been killed since October 7, many of them in clashes with Israeli forces. , according to the authority’s Ministry of Health.

“We are going through an extremely difficult time trying to provide services to our people on the ground, and they are already under military action,” Mustafa said in a video distributed by his office. “And on top of that, we can’t pay them to do basic things. This is war.”

On Wednesday, Israeli forces extended a military incursion into the West Bank city of Jenin, where Palestinian officials said at least 11 people, including two high school students, a doctor and a teacher, had been killed in recent days. Israeli officials have said the soldiers were carrying out counterterrorism operations.

Yair Lapid, leader of Israel’s parliamentary opposition, said he agreed with Netanyahu that the decisions by Spain, Norway and Ireland were “shameful.” But he also called it “an unprecedented diplomatic failure” for Israel, an implicit rebuke to Netanyahu.

Maya Sion-Tzidkiyahu, an expert on Israeli-European relations at Mitvim, an Israeli foreign policy research group, said the announcements reflect how much global support Israel has lost since the Hamas-led attacks on October 7 that killed 1,200 people in Israel and led to the kidnapping of more than 200 more people, according to Israeli authorities.

“This shows us once again, as Israelis, the extent to which we are increasingly isolated,” he said.

Spain, Ireland and Norway have strongly criticized Israel’s continuation of the war and have historically been strong supporters of the Palestinians. As a result, their announcements may not put much pressure on Israel, Sion-Tzidkiyahu said. If Germany or France, which are Israel’s closest allies, accepted the creation of a Palestinian state, it would carry more weight, he said.

“For now, we can live with it, because it has no real meaning,” Sion-Tzidkiyahu said. “It has no effect on the ground.”

The report was contributed by Steven Erlanger, Henrik Pryser Libell, Adam Rasgon, Victoria Kim, Raja Abdulrahim, Megan Spice and Michael D. Shear.

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