Spain, Ireland poised to back Palestinian state

Spain, Ireland poised to back Palestinian state
Spain, Ireland poised to back Palestinian state

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Spain and Ireland are set to push ahead with an initiative to recognise a Palestinian state. Other EU members and European countries may also provide their backing. — DW pic

NEW YORK, May 21 — As more protesters voice their support for Palestinians in Gaza in streets around the world, the UN General Assembly has expanded the rights of Palestine within the global body.

Now, five EU members are planning to extend their solidarity to the population of Gaza by officially recognising Palestine as a sovereign country. This is seen as a step toward the two-state solution, which is looking increasingly less likely for the Israeli government as it presses ahead with its offensive in Rafah.

After the October 7 attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israeli forces would destroy Hamas, the organisation that rules Gaza and has been designated a terrorist organisation by all EU member states, the United States and other governments.

Israel intends to maintain long-term control over the territory. Over time, however, it has faced growing international pressure owing to its harsh military approach, which has claimed the lives of more than 35,500 people, according to Palestinian sources, and precipitated a disastrous humanitarian situation in the territory.

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Symbolic recognition of Palestinian state

Spain’s modern ties to the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Turkiye, date back to the 1939-1975 Franco dictatorship, when governments in the region kept the country from total economic and political isolation as Europe divided into the Western and Eastern blocs following World War II.

When the dictatorship ended in 1975, Spain established economic relations with Israel followed by diplomatic relations in 1986. In the years that followed, Spain established itself as a respected mediator between Israel and the Arab world. The 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, for instance, is seen as having laid the groundwork for the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

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In recent months, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has held numerous meetings with fellow EU officials in an effort to get governments to join Spain in recognising Palestine as a state. He reportedly pursued this project at the EU level but faced opposition from Germany and other countries, before deciding to build an international coalition instead. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced last week that Spain, Ireland and Slovenia planned to symbolically recognise a Palestinian state on May 21.

Ireland has backed two-state solution since 1980

Ireland’s support for an independent Palestinian state also has deep historical roots. In his capacity as chief secretary for Ireland in the late 19th century, the British politician Arthur Balfour opposed Home Rule. Then, as British foreign secretary in 1917, he issued the Balfour Declaration, which announced the support of the British government for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

After Britain took control of the territory as the Ottoman Empire collapsed, the government deployed Black and Tans — the very police force that had so brutally suppressed Irish aspirations for independence — to the region.

Parallels have been drawn between the arrival of European Jews in a region that was predominantly Muslim and the settling of Protestants in heavily Catholic Ireland. Given the expulsion of Palestinians after 1948, some Irish people see commonalities between the establishing of the state of Israel and their island’s own colonial legacy.

When Simon Harris took office as Ireland’s head of government in April, Sanchez was his first EU counterpart to visit, driven by a desire to coordinate their joint initiative on Palestine. The Irish government said it has advocated a two-state solution with a fully sovereign Palestinian state since 1980 — longer than any other EU state.

Malta, Norway may also join initiative

The governments of Spain and Ireland have courted other EU members to join their initiative. Slovenia’s government had previously announced it might recognise Palestine as a state by mid-June, but has now advanced those plans to May 21, according to Borrell. EU member Malta might also provide its backing. In April, it voted in favour of full membership for Palestine in the UN, though the initiative at the UN Security Council fell through due to a US veto.

The government of Norway, a member of Nato and the European Economic Area but not of the EU, has announced that it could recognise Palestine as an independent state “in spring.” Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said the government would do so in order to help create a politically united Palestinian state instead of a “Hamas state.”

A group of EU members in Central and Eastern Europe have already recognised Palestine as an independent state. In the past, certain socialist states maintained a certain ideological closeness toward Palestinian Liberation Organisation leader Yasser Arafat. Today, many of the same countries, particularly the Czech Republic and Hungary, are seen as supporters of Israel, even through they maintain full diplomatic relations with the Palestinians.

The only country that has recognised Palestine as a state since joining the European Union is Sweden, which did so in 2014. It remains to be seen whether the Spanish-Irish coalition will grow stronger with time. The Belgian government, for example, does not support the May 21 deadline for state recognition, and Portugal has changed tack now that a conservative government is in power.

Though Germany has advocated for humanitarian aid and maintains ties with the Palestinian Authority, the government will only recognise an independent state of Palestine when Israel does. As long as Hamas remains a political force in Gaza, recognising statehood has been deemed out of the question. — DW

* This article was originally written in German.

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