Gaza invasion revives forgotten issue of recognition of the State of Palestine

Israel itself has resurrected support for Palestinian self-determination through its actions in the Strip, in one of its biggest diplomatic setbacks at a time when its reputation is increasingly in decline

Guerra entre Israel y Gaza
A child and a woman walk past buildings destroyed by bombs in Khan Younis, Gaza, on May 22.Mohammed Salem (REUTERS)
Antonio Pita

Until recently, the expression “recognition of the State of Palestine” was only seen in Israel when consulting the newspaper archives. At the beginning of the last decade, a fruitful diplomatic campaign succeeded in stringing together recognitions and, above all, generating enthusiasm around the idea that it was the best response to the paralysis of the Middle East peace process. More than 20 Latin American, African, and Asian countries recognized Palestine in 2011. A year later, with the West Bank city of Ramallah decked out and screens set up to follow the session live, the United Nations General Assembly approved granting Palestine non-member observer status. The taste was bittersweet: it had given up asking for full membership in the Security Council because of the certainty that the United States would exercise its veto.

Cyprus was the only EU country to recognize the State of Palestine at that time. The idea was that the momentum from the Global South would eventually cross over to Europe. Several national parliaments of EU countries, such as Spain’s, passed motions to that effect. In the end, like friends who promise to jump into a freezing swimming pool at the same time and then leave the first one to do so alone, Sweden followed in 2014 but there was no domino effect.

The recognition dossier was left gathering dust on the shelves of the chancelleries. In the nine years between Sweden’s decision and the Hamas attacks of October 7, 2023, which triggered the invasion of Gaza, only three countries joined. The only major one was Colombia. The other two, St. Lucia and St. Kitts and Nevis, have a combined population of just over 200,000 inhabitants. As political analyst Akiva Eldar recalled last April in the Israeli daily Haaretz: “There was a time when Israel would fly into a rage every time a minor country threatened to recognize the Palestinian state.”

Today, it is Israel itself — which has left more than 35,000 dead in Gaza and deployed the use of famine as a weapon of war amid scenes of devastation in the Strip — that has resurrected the recognition of the State of Palestine, in one of its biggest diplomatic setbacks at a time when its reputation is increasingly in decline.

ICC request for Netanyahu arrest

Just two days ago, the Prosecutor’s Office of the International Criminal Court asked the judges to issue arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, placing the country in the same symbolic bag as the three Hamas leaders whose arrest it also requested, as well as various African dictators and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The International Court of Justice in The Hague is considering a lawsuit against the country for alleged genocide in Gaza. Added to this are the anti-war demonstrations on university campuses in the United States, unprecedented in decades, and the accumulation of quarrels with the White House, which nevertheless maintains its arms and diplomatic support for Israel. The latest blemish on Israel’s international image came Tuesday, with the confiscation of recording equipment from the U.S. news agency Associated Press — reversed a few hours later after complaints from the White House — for providing a signal to the Qatari network Al Jazeera (and hundreds of other media outlets).

Spain, Ireland, and Norway broke the ice in the EU on Wednesday by setting a date (next Tuesday) for recognition of the State of Palestine. The three countries also broke the traditional divide between the West — which has generally not recognized Palestine — and the rest of the world. A total of 143 of the 193 member states of the United Nations have taken the step, the most recent four in the past month: the Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Barbados.

Nour Odeh, a Palestinian political analyst, was a spokesperson for the Palestinian National Authority government on the day of the vote in the General Assembly in 2012. Recalling the enthusiasm of the moment, she says that European countries “were not yet ready to admit that their policy over the past three decades on the so-called peace process has been a failure.” This is what, in his view, the coordinated announcement by Spain, Ireland, and Norway represents. “The realization that if a country is serious about the two-state solution (which is the only one on the table) it has to be consistent with it and make it clear to Israel that the borders are not elastic,” he says by phone.

Odeh insists that recognition is not merely a symbolic act, but “an act of legal and political commitment.” And he believes that Europe has ended up feeling the need to balance the yardstick it applies to Russia over the invasion of Ukraine, so as not to lose credibility with the rest of the world.

Last February, when reports were growing about the imminence of the recognitions, the Israeli parliament gave the green light by a large majority to a text — presented by Netanyahu and unanimously approved by his emergency government — in which it rejected both the “international dictates on a permanent agreement with the Palestinians” and “the unilateral recognition of the State of Palestine.” Israel describes such moves as unilateral because they do not take place within the framework of a negotiated peace agreement.

On Wednesday, after recalling his ambassadors to the three European countries preparing recognition, Netanyahu called the decision a “reward for terrorism” and stressed that an eventual Palestinian state would be a “terrorist state” that would “try to repeat the massacre of October 7 again and again.”

Aware of the mantra, Ireland’s ambassador to Israel, Sonya McGuinness, said in an op-ed that the reality is “the opposite.” “It involves supporting the vision of Palestinian self-determination in which a free and independent Palestine accepts the rights and obligations of a state, including full compliance with the UN Charter and the pursuit of its goals exclusively through political and diplomatic means.”

The recognition, moreover, marks the borders of the future state as those accepted both internationally and by the official Palestinian leadership for the past three decades: Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem as the capital. On the other hand, the perpetrator of the October 7 attacks, Hamas, formally aspires to the disappearance of Israel, although part of its leadership has expressed its openness to accepting a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.

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