Four EU Members’ Recognition to the Palestine State: A Move in the Right Direction!

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In an attempt to bring an end to the decades-long debate over the question of Palestinian statehood, Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares on behalf of Four EU Members Ireland, Spain, Slovenia, and Malta stated that they were “ready to recognize Palestine” in a move that would happen when “the circumstances are right.” This statement was made on March 22, 2024, on the sidelines of an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels. The attempt to recognize the Palestinian state by four European Union members marks a significant step forward in addressing the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The decision reflects a growing international consensus on the need for a two-state solution as a result of the ongoing Israeli brutality in Gaza. By recognizing Palestine as a sovereign state, the EU countries will be affirming the Palestinians’ right to self-determination to advance peace and stability in the region where both Israel and Palestine can coexist peacefully.

This brief will shed light on the history behind the Palestinian statehood recognition and Europe’s role in all of this. The brief will also discuss the current context, the significance of this move by the four countries, and why Palestinian statehood is needed.

In April 2024, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez declared that the country was poised to unilaterally recognize the ‘Palestinian state’ by June or July and hoped that other European states would follow suit. On April 2024, the Spanish FM also shared that the EU’s High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, had convened all EU foreign ministers in an attempt to adopt a common European position on the crisis. The four countries believe that the only way to put an end to this spiral of violence is the two-state solution. In recent months, the Spanish government has been carrying on talks with their Arab and European counterparts. The country is set to continue with the round of diplomatic talks and trips to European countries to garner support for the recognition of Palestinian statehood. Some other countries like Portugal have shared with Spain that the country will be recognizing Palestine only with a joint EU approach.

Palestine is recognized as a sovereign state by 140 of the 193 member states of the UN. Ecuador, Egypt, India, Iceland, Romania, Poland, Burundi, Thailand, Tanzania, Iraq, Sweden, and Russia are among the nations that have recognized Palestine. A two-state solution is supported by several nations that do not recognize Palestine as a state, including the US, Germany, the UK, France, Japan, and Canada. But direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority are a prerequisite for their recognition of a Palestinian state. European Union as a whole with Prominent members of the United Nations Security Council, the United States, France, and the United Kingdom also do not recognize Palestine. Only eight of the 27 EU members currently recognize Palestine as a sovereign state: Sweden, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, and Poland. There will be twelve EU members who recognize the state of Palestine if Ireland, Spain, Slovenia, and Malta join them.

Within the EU, the countries of the former Soviet bloc (Bulgaria, Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, and Hungary), as well as Cyprus and Sweden, have so far recognized Palestine as a state within the borders outlined in 1967 (including the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem). Only one EU member state, Sweden, recognized Palestine during its membership in the EU; the other members did so before they entered into the union. Some other European countries have shown their interest in the possibility of such a recognition. French President Emmanuel Macron, no longer considers the recognition of a Palestinian state as a taboo: “We are ready to contribute, both in Europe and within the UN Security Council.” Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni claimed that “Italy has always reiterated that the Palestinian people have the right to have a state: an independent and secure state”.

Countries that Recognize Palestine

Source: World Population Review • As of March 2023

In the 1980s, the majority of European nations recognized the state of Palestine. When the European Community released the Venice Declaration in 1980, it set a precedent by recognizing the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, insisting that the PLO be included in negotiations, highlighting the necessity for Israel to end the occupation, and the illegality of Israeli settlements. The EU created the Berlin Declaration in the late 1990s in response to Arafat’s threats to unilaterally announce Palestinian statehood, stating that it was “ready to consider the recognition of a Palestinian State in due course.” Ten years later it was replaced with “when appropriate”. On March 21, 2024, an important event unfolded when all EU leaders agreed to support “an immediate humanitarian pause leading to a sustainable ceasefire” in Gaza.

In a historic moment on 18 April 2024, the UNSC, for the first time since its establishment, sat to vote to determine if Palestine will get full U.N. membership at the country’s request. The United States vetoed the widely backed resolution which got twelve votes in favour while two countries abstained. Palestine lacked the minimum nine votes without a veto was needed to adopt a resolution. According to the US deputy envoy to the UN, Robert Wood, “There is no other path to Palestinian statehood than through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians”.

This incident followed Palestine’s original membership application made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the UN’s then-Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2011. A UNSC committee assessed the bid for several weeks but could not reach a unanimous position. Then, on November 29, 2012, on the occasion of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People and the 65th anniversary of the General Assembly’s adoption of resolution 181(II) on the Future Government of Palestine, a resolution was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly which granted Palestine the status of a non-member observer state inside UN.

Recognizing Palestine as a state would require EU members to abide by a broad international consensus. The EU’s long-standing stance that Israel’s occupation is illegal and that Israel’s settlement industry is harmful to peace and security can be further reaffirmed by recognition which may result from the attempts by the four countries. Upon recognition, Palestine would have greater political, legal, and even symbolic authority. Particularly, the occupation or annexation of Palestinian territory by Israel would raise more significant legal concerns. Someday, Palestine might bring Israel before an international court, but that does not seem plausible for now. Denying the statehood right will continue to fuel the flames of the ongoing conflict and pave the path for more acts of violence. The two-state solution is the only option to satisfy the justifiable goals of both Israelis and Palestinians.

The four countries might tip the scales by discussing with other EU nations. Although most UN members have already recognized the state of Palestine, none of the major Western governments have done so as of yet. A common stance for recognition by the four countries and their attempts to sway other countries can lead the way to a common European recognition. That is why this step matters as it would create new conditions for European and international consensus. The four members have the potential to usher in a unanimously shared objective of the Palestinian right to statehood in Europe. Under the weight of a European and international consensus may also compel the US to act. If the four countries can make Europe a joint effort to recognize Palestine, through diplomatic talks and negotiation they can pressure the USA to back this solution. Europe can also jointly place economic sanctions on Israel to pressure them into entering talks with Palestinian authorities to further negotiations for a recognized state. Acknowledgment would set off a chain of events that might increase everyone’s desire to start talks. It is less expensive to recognize a Palestinian state than to keep up and finance the occupation. Acknowledging Palestine is morally required, not only because of the significant historical role played by important European nations in creating the framework for the war, but also because the conflict should be viewed through the lenses of justice, human rights, and international law.

It is economically beneficial for Europe to recognize a state of Palestine because this would curb the aid and financial assistance the region needs to send to sustain the current frameworks and related organizations. It will lessen the cost of bearing the responsibilities of Palestinian refugees and displaced populations resulting from the violence that stems from the current situation in the region. A Palestinian state will provide the country with the right to self-determination as well as the responsibility to protect its own population. The Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and West Bank are rich in many natural resources. The European countries could foster trade and economic relations with a new Palestine state. It is also beneficial for Europe to recognize a Palestine state because its population is increasingly becoming aware of the genocidal and colonial nature of the current Israeli regime in Gaza and the West Bank. Gradually a significant portion of the European population is taking an anti-genocidal stand.  They are raising their voice against the current occupation and genocide of Israel in Palestine and starting to exert pressure on their respective governments to take a stronger and moral stand on this issue. This growing expression in Europe and the Western world against torture, persecution, and apartheid can be and should be an important factor in shaping their government’s policy.

Israel has long maintained that talks for a future Palestinian state would be seriously jeopardized if Palestine were granted full UN membership status before Israel can have diplomatic talks with the Palestinian authority. Four European nations had previously received a warning from Israel that their efforts to seek recognition of a Palestinian State amounted to a “prize for terrorism” and would lessen the likelihood of a peaceful settlement between Israel and Palestine. Coordinated recognition of Palestinian statehood by all EU members is necessary to halt the conflict and stop the violence from spreading to other parts of the region. Ireland, Malta, Slovenia, and Spain have historically supported Palestinian self-determination, it is not unexpected that they may lead other EU members in this regard.

The pro-Israel stances of Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and other countries could prevent the four governments from moving on with their plan to move under the EU framework, which would give them far greater power. Italy or Germany will not probably consent to this since they recently sold a significant amount of weaponry to Israel. Germany and Italy, are Israel’s second and third largest arms suppliers behind the US. Belgium has declared that it will take into consideration recognizing Palestine. Its authorities have been more critical of the war and have called for economic sanctions on Israel.

The fact that four European states support the initiative while others oppose it shows how profoundly split the EU is. This effort by the four EU countries is a step in the right direction as Europeans must take a joint political initiative because the rising wave of violence may only stop if there is a sovereign Palestine on the horizon.

– Tahia Afra Jannati is a Research Intern at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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