Spain’s lower house on Tuesday approved a non-binding proposal in favor of recognizing Palestine as an independent state. Spain is now the third European country to do so after the United Kingdom and Ireland.
According to the final text of the proposal – which received 319 yes votes, one abstention, and two no votes – Congress “urges the government to recognize Palestine as a state.”
While the votes of Spain, the UK and Ireland are non-binding, they all carry significant political weight – so much so that ambassadors from several Arab countries attended Tuesday’s vote in Madrid, as well as a representative from the Palestine Authority. The Israeli embassy, meanwhile, had warned of the risks of a proposal such as this.
During the Congressional debate that preceded the vote, political parties began by condemning Tuesday morning’s attack at a synagogue in Jerusalem, in which four Israelis were killed, and two Palestinians involved in the incident were shot dead by Israeli authorities.
In their speeches, the Spanish politicians also focused on the importance of recognizing Palestine as a state as a means to move toward reconciliation in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Shortly before the vote, Foreign Minister José Manuel García Margallo thanked the parties for reaching a consensus, and expressed the “hope of the government that today’s historical session serves to unblock a negotiation process that has been stalled for many years.”
Margallo also committed to seeing that Spain, in its role as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, would “push for dialogue for peace, security and the development of a region that has been suffering for a long time.”
Former Foreign Minister Trinidad Jiménez, who is the spokesperson for the opposition Socialist group and backed the initiative, was involved in negotiations with the government on Monday to reach agreement over the text of the proposal.
The minor differences between the parties over the proposal included the Socialists’ desire for the government to recognize the Palestinian state, while the ruling Popular Party (PP) preferred a commitment to “launch an initiative” toward recognition. The latter had already been approved by Congress on a number of occasions, the last time during the State of the Nation debate in 2011.
But beyond those nuances, a cross-party agreement was reached, given that neither the proposal made by the Socialists nor the counteroffer from the PP set a time limit for recognition, as some of the smaller parties in Congress had demanded.
Either we act quickly or the viability of the Palestinian state will be physically impossible”
Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo explained on Monday that that would “give the government room for maneuver so that it can recognize [the Palestinian state] when it considers it to be opportune.”
But Margallo also admitted before the vote that “time is running out.” “Either we act quickly or the viability of the Palestinian state will be physically impossible,” he said, in reference to the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.
The most significant change to the final text did not result from cross-party negotiations, but rather from differences within the government itself. The document that the government sent to the Socialists included a paragraph that Israel strongly disliked: “If negotiations prove impossible or get delayed indefinitely, recognizing Palestine will be the way to advance the cause of peace in a process equally concerted with our partners in the European Union, taking fully into account the legitimate concerns, interests and aspirations of the State of Israel.”
This was a clear warning to Israel, which would lose the right to veto the recognition of the Palestinian state. The latter would no longer necessarily be the result of a peace agreement between both parties, and thus tied to it, but a pressure tool to advance or unblock negotiations. Sources consulted on the matter said the order came straight from La Moncloa, the seat of government: it was Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy – through his Chief of Staff Jorge Moragas – who decided to strike out the paragraph to which Israel objected the most.
The chance of reaching a consensus among the European Union member states on the issue appears to be remote
The chance of reaching a consensus among the European Union member states on the issue appears to be remote, and as such Spain will seek to coordinate with countries such as France, whose National Assembly is soon due to vote on a similar resolution to the one being prepared in Spain.
Jiménez said earlier this week that this was “the moment to recognize the Palestinian state,” a decision that does “not go against anything or anyone, in particular Israel,” but instead aims to contribute to the peace process, which has, she continued, “spent too much time stalled,” and will be solved by the peaceful coexistence of two states.
The majority of the other political parties in Congress decided to support the initiative that was negotiated between the Socialists and the PP, although some considered that it does not go far enough.