Unilateral recognition inches Palestinian statehood forward

An independent state may still have a long road ahead, but a decision by Ireland, Norway and Spain to unilaterally recognise Palestine shows a shift in Western thinking

Unilateral recognition inches Palestinian statehood forward

The Gaza war may still be continuing, but the decision by a number of European countries to declare their recognition for an independent Palestinian state gives a clear indication of how world leaders would ultimately like to see the conflict resolved.

It is more than 30 years since the Oslo Accords, which were signed on the White House lawn by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat in 1993, set out a blueprint for the creation of an independent Palestine.

While the pathway to statehood set out by the Oslo process was slow and bureaucratic, with a number of conditions, such as security measures, needing to be established as part of confidence-building measures, neither side was in any doubt that the ultimate objective was to establish an independent, self-governing Palestinian state.

Rabin’s assassination by a Jewish extremist opposed to the process in 1995 was merely the first significant upset that helped to derail the process, which culminated with hardline Israeli Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Al Aqsa compound in 2000, which is widely attributed to causing the second intifada.

Neglected question

Since then, the whole question of Palestinian statehood has fallen into neglect, most recently with the Trump administration’s diplomatic effort that resulted in the Abraham Accords, during which Palestinian leaders were mainly excluded from the process.

This week’s announcement, therefore, that Ireland, Norway and Spain will formally recognise a Palestinian state from 28 May could prove to be an important declaration in terms of laying the groundwork for future negotiations to resolve the long-running Israel-Palestine issue.

Norway, which helped to mastermind the Oslo Accords negotiating process in the 1990s, drove the initiative. Norway coordinated its announcement with Dublin and Madrid.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre announced the decision, saying it was "in support of moderate forces that are on a retreating front in a protracted and cruel conflict. This is an investment in the only solution that can bring lasting peace in the Middle East."

These sentiments were echoed by Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin, who said that Ireland had declared "our unambiguous support for the equal right to security, dignity, and self-determination for the Palestinian and Israeli peoples." Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the move was "in favour of peace and coexistence."

Critics chime in

Critics of the move will argue that, with fighting continuing in Gaza and no sign of a resumption of peace talks in sight, the joint declaration is premature and will do little to ease the plight of ordinary Palestinians living in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. 

Both Hamas and its rival, the Palestinian Authority, have welcomed the recognition.

But the decision of these three European countries to press ahead without Israel's backing could also prove problematic, especially as the Israeli government reacted angrily to the decision by immediately announcing the withdrawal of its ambassadors from the three capitals involved.

While there is growing support among Western leaders for the issue of Palestinian statehood to be properly addressed once the Gaza conflict has ended, with most backing the creation of an independent Palestine, the Israeli government under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains bitterly opposed to Palestinian independence.

Indeed, Netanyahu and his allies responded to the joint declaration by saying it amounted to a "prize for terrorism", claiming that it ultimately rewarded Hamas for launching its devastating attack against Israel on October 7. "A reward for terror will not bring about peace," said Netanyahu, "and also will not stop us from winning over Hamas."

Diplomatic momentum seems to be building within the Western alliance to ultimately recognise a Palestinian state.

Diplomatic momentum

While Israel's opposition to the joint declaration is entirely predictable, the decision of the three countries to press ahead with their formal recognition of the process suggests that diplomatic momentum is building within the Western alliance to ultimately achieve such a goal.

While other Western countries such as the US, UK and France distanced themselves from the joint declaration, there are signs that they broadly support the objective of Palestinian statehood, even if they may express differences over how this might be achieved.

US President Joe Biden, for example, argued that a Palestinian state should only be achieved through negotiations once the Gaza conflict has ended and not by unilateral recognition. 

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

In London, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak similarly distanced himself from the move, while the French government, while not supporting the declaration, said there was no "taboo" in Paris about supporting Palestinian statehood.

The suggestion remains, though, that the UK has not ruled out the possibility of recognising a Palestinian state prior to negotiations taking place. In January, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron revealed that London was considering a diplomatic push to recognise a Palestinian state at the United Nations as part of a broader plan to end the war in Gaza. Cameron said such a move could bring about "irreversible progress to a two-state solution," he said.

"We should be starting to set out what a Palestinian state would look like – what it would comprise, how it would work."

The actual process of creating an independent state may still be a long way from achieving its goal, but the very fact that Western leaders believe this must be the ultimate outcome of the Gaza bloodshed suggests it is no longer just a distant dream for the Palestinian people.

font change