June 21st, 2024

Spain and Norway formally recognize a Palestinian state as EU rift with Israel widens

By Joseph Wilson, The Associated Press on May 28, 2024.

Spain's Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares Bueno attends a meeting for talks on the Middle East in Brussels, Sunday, May 26, 2024. The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell insisted Sunday that Israel must abide by the UN top court's rulings and end its offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah and, at the same time, questioned the possible involvement of authorities in the settler violence against Palestinians on the West Bank. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – Spain and Norway moved to formally recognize a Palestinian state with Ireland to follow suit on Tuesday in a coordinated effort by the three western European nations. Israel slammed the diplomatic move that will have no immediate impact on its grinding war in Gaza but adds to international pressure on Tel Aviv to soften its devastating response to last year’s Hamas-led attack.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the Spanish Cabinet will recognize a Palestinian state at its Tuesday morning meeting.

“This is a historic decision that has a single goal, and that is to help Israelis and Palestinians achieve peace,” Sánchez, standing at the gates of the prime minister’s palace in Madrid, said during a televised speech.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz lashed out at Spain on X, saying Sánchez’s government was “being complicit in inciting genocide against Jews and war crimes.”

Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said in a statement that “for more than 30 years, Norway has been one of the strongest advocates for a Palestinian state. Today, when Norway officially recognizes Palestine as a state, is a milestone in the relationship between Norway and Palestine.”

While dozens of countries have recognized a Palestinian state, none of the major Western powers has done so. Still, the adherence of three European countries to the group represents a victory for Palestinian efforts in the world of public opinion.

Relations between the EU and Israel nosedived Monday, the eve of the diplomatic recognition EU members Ireland and Spain, with Madrid insisting that the EU should take measures against Israel for its continued deadly attacks in southern Gaza’s city of Rafah.

After Monday’s meeting of EU foreign ministers, Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin said “for the first time at an EU meeting, in a real way, I have seen a significant discussion on sanctions” for Israel.

Norway, which is not an EU member but often aligns its foreign policy with the bloc, handed diplomatic papers to the Palestinian government over the weekend ahead of its formal recognition. At the same time, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell threw his weight behind the International Criminal Court, whose prosecutor is seeking an arrest warrant against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others, including leaders of the Hamas militant group.

The formal declaration and resulting diplomatic dispute come over seven months into a grinding war waged by Israel against Hamas in Gaza following the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack in which militants stormed across the Gaza border into Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking some 250 hostage. Israel’s air and land attacks have killed 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians.

Last week’s joint announcement by Spain, Ireland and Norway triggered an angry response from Israeli authorities, which summoned the countries’ ambassadors in Tel Aviv to the Foreign Ministry, where they were filmed while being shown videos of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and abductions.

Some 140 countries – more than two-thirds of the United Nations – recognize a Palestinian state. The addition of three western European countries to that group will likely put pressure on EU heavyweights France and Germany to think hard about their continued refusal to follow suit.

The United States and Britain, among others, back the idea of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel but say it should come as part of a negotiated settlement. Netanyahu’s government says the conflict can only be resolved through direct negotiations.

In his speech on Tuesday, Sánchez said that the recognition of a Palestinian state was “a decision that we do not adopt against anyone, least of all against Israel, a friendly people whom we respect, whom we appreciate and with whom we want to have the best possible relationship.”

The Socialist leader, who announced his country’s decision before parliament last week, has spent months touring European and Middle Eastern countries to garner support for recognition and a cease-fire in Gaza.

He called for a permanent cease-fire, for stepping up humanitarian aid into Gaza and for the release of hostages that Hamas has held since the Oct. 7 attack that triggered Israel’s response.

Sánchez said that the move was to back the beleaguered Palestinian Authority, which lost effective political control of Gaza to Hamas. He laid out his vision for a state ruled by the Palestinian Authority that must connect the West Bank and Gaza via a corridor with east Jerusalem as its capital.

Norway’s Barth Eide added that “the recognition is a strong expression of support for moderate forces in both countries.”

The Western-backed Palestinian Authority administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, cooperates with Israel on security matters and favors a negotiated two-state solution. Its forces were driven out of Gaza by Hamas when the militants seized power there in 2007.

The Palestinians have long sought an independent state in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. The idea of a land corridor linking Gaza and the West Bank through Israel was discussed in previous rounds of peace talks, but no serious or substantive peace negotiations have been held in over 15 years.

“We will not recognize changes in the 1967 border lines other than those agreed to by the parties,” Sánchez added.

“Furthermore, this decision reflects our absolute rejection of Hamas, a terrorist organization who is against the two-state solution,” Sánchez said. “From the outset, Spain has strongly condemned the terrorist attacks of Oct. 7. This clear condemnation is the resounding expression of our steadfast commitment in the fight against terrorism. I would like to underline that starting tomorrow we would focus all our efforts to implement the two state solution and make it a reality.”

Israel is also under pressure from the International Criminal Court after its chief prosecutor said he would seek arrest warrants for Netanyahu and his defense minister. The ICJ is also considering allegations of genocide that Israel has strenuously denied.

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Associated Press writers Melanie Lidman in Tel Aviv, Israel and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s Israel-Hamas coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

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