state debate

Israel braces for wave of Palestinian state recognitions 

Several EU and other Western countries have openly weighed recognizing Palestinian statehood, while the U.N. is expected to vote to override a U.S. veto

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, speaks during a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting on the Middle East, including the situation in Gaza and Israel on January 23, 2024 in New York City. T

Israel is pushing back as the United Nations as well as several countries in Europe and beyond are expected to recognize a Palestinian state in the coming weeks.

After months of debate among U.N. member states, individual countries and parliaments over whether to recognize an independent Palestinian state, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said this week that five European states could do so by the end of May. In addition, the U.N. General Assembly is expected to vote on Palestinian membership on May 10, following a U.S. veto in the Security Council last month.  

Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Gilad Erdan told the General Assembly on Wednesday that “by advancing a Palestinian state, you are telling the Hamas murderers and rapists that terror pays off. It makes me want to vomit.”

“You know the Palestinian Authority doesn’t meet the criteria for statehood,” Erdan added. “You prefer a rogue state and to hell with the Jewish state. This is a clear message to the Palestinians that they never, ever, ever have to sit at the negotiating table, let alone make any compromises.”

The majority of U.N. states already recognize a Palestinian state. When the question of promoting “Palestine” from observer status to full U.N. membership was brought to the Security Council in April, 12 members voted in favor, with Britain and Switzerland abstaining, while the U.S. vetoed the resolution. The resolution, which is nonbinding, is set to go to a General Assembly vote next week; only the Security Council can admit new member states to the U.N.

In response to European efforts to recognize a Palestinian state, Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Oren Marmorstein, warned that “every statement about the possibility that European countries will recognize a Palestinian state is a prize for Hamas terrorists, who carried out the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. Only direct negotiations between the parties will lead to peace.” 

“The world including Europe should currently focus solely on the immediate release of the 133 women and men taken hostage and on the destruction of the Hamas terror organization,” Marmorstein added. “Anyone promoting a different agenda at this time is playing into the hands of Hamas and is hindering efforts to reach a deal on releasing the hostages and humanitarian relief.”

The leaders of Spain, Ireland, Slovenia and Malta announced in March their “readiness to recognize Palestine,” arguing that “the circumstances are right.”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has been a leading figure in the push for Palestinian statehood, lobbying other European states to join the effort. Sánchez told journalists traveling with him to Amman, Jordan, last month that he aims to have his government recognize a Palestinian state “in the first half of this year,” and expressed hope that a “critical mass” of Western states will follow suit. 

Ireland’s new prime minister, Simon Harris, shares his predecessor’s critical view of Israel and has also stated his intention to move forward with recognizing a Palestinian state. 

The EU’s Borrell listed Belgium as joining the four states that announced they would recognize a Palestinian state, but Belgium, Luxembourg and Portugal departed the group discussing Palestinian statehood.

Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib criticized Spain’s pressure campaign on the matter, which she said stemmed from domestic politics. She called for a “rational” approach by which the Palestinians would have to reach specific milestones to attain recognition from European states. Portuguese Prime Minister Luís Montenegro said, following a meeting with Sánchez last month, that his country would wait for a common position in the EU and U.N.

The EU supports a two-state solution, but states vary in their position on recognizing a Palestinian state that does not result from negotiations with Israel. Several EU member states that were formerly aligned with the former Soviet Union, such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, as well as Cyprus, which is not part of the Eastern Bloc, recognized Palestinian statehood before joining the EU. Sweden is the only country to do so after joining the EU, acting unilaterally in 2014.

Outside of the EU, Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, this week that Oslo “belong[s] to a group of countries who think that we are probably closer to the date of bilateral recognition” of a Palestinian state outside of the framework of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Eide reportedly plans to finalize recognition in coming months.

Israeli Ambassador to Norway Avi Nir-Feldklein told local media that recognizing a Palestinian state would be a reward for terrorism and noted that Barth Eide did not mention the Israeli hostages in his remarks calling for the end of the war. 

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said last month that the country could recognize a Palestinian state “as a way of building momentum towards a two-state solution.” She argued that Israel was wrong to say doing so would reward terrorism, and that recognition would hurt Hamas. 

U.K. Foreign Minister David Cameron also called earlier this year for “irreversible progress to a two-state solution and, crucially, the establishment of a Palestinian state.” But he backtracked weeks later, saying: “I don’t think [recognition] should happen at the start of the process because I think that takes all the pressure off the Palestinians to reform. But it shouldn’t have to wait until the end… We shouldn’t give Israel a veto power.” 

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