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Norway, Ireland and Spain to recognize a Palestinian state

Wednesday May 22, 2024


Israel summons ambassadors from the 3 European countries, recalls its own ambassadors


From left, Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris, Spain's President Pedro Sánchez and Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre are pictured. Getty Images/PA/Reuters

WARNING: This story contains graphic video and descriptions of women being violently taken hostage as well as discussion of sexual assault. 

Norway, Ireland and Spain said Wednesday they would recognize a Palestinian state, a historic but largely symbolic move that further deepens Israel's isolation more than seven months into its grinding war against Hamas in Gaza.

Palestinian officials welcomed the announcements as an affirmation of their decades-long quest for statehood in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — territories that Israel seized in the 1967 Six-Day War and still largely controls.

Israel immediately denounced the decisions and recalled its ambassadors to the three countries.

While some 140 countries — more than two-thirds of the United Nations — recognize a Palestinian state, Wednesday's cascade of announcements could build momentum at a time when even close allies of Israel have piled on criticism for its conduct in Gaza.

The timing of the move was a surprise, but discussions have been underway for weeks in some European Union countries about possibly recognizing a Palestinian state. Proponents have argued that the war has shown the need for a new push toward a two-state solution, 15 years after negotiations collapsed between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government opposes Palestinian statehood.

Norway, which is not a member of the EU but mirrors its moves, has been an ardent supporter of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. The country helped broker the Oslo accords during the peace process in the 1990s.

"The terror has been committed by Hamas and militant groups who are not supporters of a two-state solution and the state of Israel," Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said. "Palestine has a fundamental right to an independent state."

In making his announcement Wednesday, Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris said the move was co-ordinated with Spain and Norway — and that it was a "historic and important day for Ireland and for Palestine."

'Not against the Israeli people'

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez made the expected announcement to the nation's parliament. He had spent months touring European and Middle Eastern countries to garner support for the recognition, as well as for a possible cease-fire in Gaza. 

"This recognition is not against anyone, it is not against the Israeli people," said Sanchez, while acknowledging that it will most likely cause diplomatic tensions with Israel. "It is an act in favour of peace, justice and moral consistency."

Sanchez argued that the move is needed to support the viability of a two-state solution that he said "is in serious danger" with the war in Gaza.

Israel's government harshly condemned the decision taken by the three countries.

In addition to recalling its ambassadors from the three countries and summoned their envoys in Israel, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on social media the ambassadors from the three countries "will watch a video of the brutal and cruel kidnapping of our daughters by Hamas terrorists, to emphasize the distorted decision their governments have made. "

"History will remember that Spain, Norway, and Ireland decided to award a gold medal to Hamas murderers and rapists," he said. He also said the announcement would undermine talks aimed at a ceasefire and hostage release in Gaza that came to a standstill earlier this month.

It was the second blow to Israel's international reputation this week after the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said he would seek arrest warrants for Netanyahu and his defence minister. The International Court of Justice is also considering allegations of genocide that Israel has strenuously denied.

The ICC prosecutor is also seeking arrest warrants for three Hamas leaders over the assault it led on Israel on Oct. 7, which Israel has said saw 1,200 killed and some 250 taken hostage. Israel's ensuing offensive has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza's Health Ministry, and has caused a humanitarian crisis and a near-famine.

The ICC prosecutor has accused Israeli leaders of using starvation as a weapon.

This month, Israeli forces have led assaults on the northern and southern edges of the Gaza Strip in May, causing a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of people, and sharply restricted the flow of aid. 

Abbas, Hamas praise decision

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking after Norway's announcement, welcomed the move and called on other countries to follow.

In a statement carried by the official Wafa news agency, Abbas said Norway's decision will enshrine "the Palestinian people's right to self-determination" and support efforts to bring about a two-state solution with Israel.

Hamas also welcomed the decisions and called on other nations to "recognize our legitimate rights." Hamas, which Western countries including Canada view as a terrorist group, does not recognize Israel's existence but has indicated it might agree to a state on the 1967 lines, at least on an interim basis.

The announcements are unlikely to have any impact on the ground. Israel annexed east Jerusalem and considers it part of its capital, and in the occupied West Bank it has built scores of Jewish settlements that are now home to over 500,000 Israelis.

The settlers have Israeli citizenship, while the three million Palestinians in the West Bank live under seemingly open-ended Israeli military rule. In Gaza, the war is still raging, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel will maintain open-ended security control of the territory even after any defeat of Hamas.

Recognition in most countries

The move Wednesday could put more pressure on continental heavyweights France and Germany to reconsider their position.

The United States and Britain, among others, have backed the idea of an independent Palestinian state existing alongside Israel as a solution to the Middle East's most intractable conflict. They insist, however, that Palestinian independence should come as part of a negotiated settlement.

"The president is a strong supporter of a two-state solution and has been throughout his career," a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said. "He believes a Palestinian state should be realized through direct negotiations between the parties, not through unilateral recognition."

In Ottawa, a non-binding motion concerning Palestinian statehood introduced by the NDP was carried 204 to 117 in March. It passed after a Liberal government amendment stipulating that Canada will "work with international partners" to "pursue the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East," and work "towards the establishment of the State of Palestine as part of a negotiated two-state solution."


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