Europe’s growing consensus on Palestinian statehood

Europe’s growing consensus on Palestinian statehood

Europe’s growing consensus on Palestinian statehood
A man waves the Palestinian flag in front of the Norwegian Parliament building during a demonstration in Oslo. (AP)
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The decision this week by Ireland, Norway, and Spain to recognize Palestinian statehood from May 28 came as little surprise in Europe. But while it was only those three governments adding to others that already recognize a Palestinian state, it would be wrong to focus entirely on the timing of these decisions as divisive rather than on the reasons behind them, and the growing consensus on the way forward.
That consensus, almost universal throughout Europe, is that there can be no return to the false status quo before Oct. 7; that only a comprehensive resolution of all issues concerning the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza itself will deliver the peace, security, and justice all Palestinians and Israelis deserve, and for that to happen, self-determination of the Palestinian people is vital, and a two-state process must be preserved.
Contrary to Israeli government statements, the background to this week’s recognition of Palestine is not sympathy for Hamas or terror, but the response of Israel to events. The revulsion of Europe to the horrors of Oct. 7 has been followed by a sense of powerlessness of how to stop the conflict’s immense damage and suffering, and return to some track for peace in the region.
The Israeli government’s determination to label all Palestinians as terrorists, and thus any Palestinian state as a terror state — a claim repeated in answer to the announcements — has lost sympathy abroad, as has its stated view that any such decisions only aid Hamas. Nothing could be further from the truth: The very fact of recognizing two states implies complete rejection of the Hamas narrative of Israel’s destruction. Ireland’s leaders went out of their way in their explanation to reemphasize Israel’s “right to exist in peace and security,” and the importance of the “unconditional release of hostages.”
What is apparent in the announcements, however, is the growing sense of the inevitability of wider recognition, seeing it now not as the end of a process of bilateral negotiation, but as an element within a peace process or a catalyst to restarting it. This is a change from the past narrative, and its most crucial aspect is that it removes an effective veto from those who have no interest in in the success of bilateral negotiations.
Norway, not surprisingly remembering Oslo, emphasized the importance of process in its own statements, reinforcing the growing view that recognition is now vital in order to preserve and promote the two-state process. If states truly wish to encourage this, so the argument goes, then it is time to acknowledge fully both the two states involved. Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Store made clear that a Palestinian state was “a prerequisite for achieving peace in the Middle East,” and added that recognition was a “means of supporting the moderate forces which have been losing ground.” There is no encouragement for Hamas in these statements. 

The very fact of recognizing two states implies complete rejection of the Hamas narrative.

Alistair Burt

But not all European states followed the lead set this week. The UK, France, and Germany believe that recognition of the state of Palestine is a huge decision, and they want such an act to either prompt something, or be part of a process that is moving forward, as UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron suggested just a few weeks ago in a speech in London. So, celebration in Palestine this week is understandable, but not sufficient. The Palestinian Authority is unable to end the conflict, but it is absolutely essential to demonstrate, and pursue in company with regional and other friends, that it is doing all that it can to be fit and prepared to govern. If so, then that other European states will recognize Palestine becomes increasingly likely.
The UK is keen to cooperate on the issue, particularly with France and Germany, but the announcement of a UK election on July 4 complicates matters. First, no major foreign policy commitment is likely during the campaign, especially one that might bind an incoming government. But, second, should there be, as likely, a change of government to Labour, there will be greater pressure on it to recognize Palestine than on a conservative government.
Long-standing campaigns in Labour for Palestine, quiet for a couple of years, have been given new impetus by events in Gaza, and by recent election results and polling suggesting unhappiness with Labour’s position on the conflict. The Labour leadership will be pressed to address such concerns by recognizing Palestine, not least now that serious and respectable international players have recently done so. This may well increase pressure on France and Germany later in the year.
This week’s decisions, and the deliberations of others for the future, suggest there is strong and passionate support for a political and negotiated way out of the current catastrophe — but it will take a greater response from both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to deliver it.

Alistair Burt is a former UK Member of Parliament who has twice held ministerial positions in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office — as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State from 2010 to 2013 and as Minister of State for the Middle East from 2017 to 2019.
X: @AlistairBurtUK

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