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What now that Spain, Ireland, and Norway have recognised a Palestinian state?

After decades of conflict between Israel and Palestine, and divided recognition worldwide, many countries are moving to recognise Palestinian statehood as a part of a long-term political solution to the conflict. Last month, Spain, Ireland, and Norway formally recognised a Palestinian state. This joint decision is part of an effort to encourage other European countries to do the same, with hopes of securing a diplomatically ensured ceasefire.   


Ireland’s prime minister, Simon Harris, said he hoped other countries would follow in order to use ‘every lever at their disposal’ to achieve a ceasefire. Ireland and the aforementioned countries’ actions have been somewhat successful, leading Slovenia to follow suit and recognise Palestinian statehood just a week later. Following Slovenia’s decision, nine of the 27 European Union (EU) members have recognised a Palestinian state. Malta, under tense relations with the US, may follow soon.


As a response to their actions, Israel has withdrawn its ambassadors from Ireland, Norway and Spain and reprimanded the countries’ envoys in Tel Aviv. This is likely to discourage other countries from following their lead. Israeli ministers claim that Palestinian recognition will encourage Hamas and reward their terrorism.



What does recognition look like?


By recognising a Palestinian state, countries are recognising a state based on borders established before the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, in which Jerusalem was the capital of both Israel and Palestine. 


Countries have various methods of diplomatic recognition, but they typically involve a formal exchange of credentials with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. This process elevates their consulates in the West Bank or East Jerusalem to the status of formal embassies, and their representatives are designated as ambassadors. The recognition of Palestine by these countries intensifies the ongoing diplomatic pressure on Israel after two international courts called for an end to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operations in Gaza. However, Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, insisted that Spain was not acting against Israel and still stood firmly against Hamas.



The goals of recognition


The United Nations (UN) and international laws and norms are being applied to prevent both Israel and Palestine from using militant force, moving things closer to a ceasefire. 


On May 10, 143 of 193 UN General Assembly members voted in favour of a Palestinian bid for full UN membership, which is only an option for recognised states. 

 

The countries that do recognise Palestinian statehood hope that if enough EU countries recognise Palestine, Israel would become isolated enough that the UN could take action to enforce a ceasefire. As of June, more than two-thirds of UN member states recognise a Palestinian state. 


Recognition of Palestine will not recognise an existing state, as Israel has occupied territory since the 1967 war. What the symbol of recognition does is help enhance Palestine’s international standing and puts pressure on both Israel and Hamas to open negotiations on ending the war, the ultimate goal being peace. 



What happens next?


So far, none of the major Western powers have recognised a Palestinian state, making it unclear how much of a difference recognition from smaller countries can have, as larger powers carry the legal power to veto decisions.  


Though the UN Security Council holds the power to impose sanctions and military force to restore international peace and security, this would require the unlikely adoption of a resolution with at least nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the U.S., Russia, China, France, or Britain.


Aside from providing international legitimacy to Palestinians, their recognition changes little in the short term as Israel’s government stands firmly against Palestinian statehood, and powerful international players, including the United States, maintain strong relations with Israel. Additionally, Britain has said it will not recognise a Palestinian state while Hamas remains in Gaza. 


Unsurprisingly, both the US and Britain supply arms to Israel, contributing to why these countries are so firmly invested on the side of Israel. The US is the biggest supplier, contributing to 69 per cent of major arm imports to Israel between 2019-2023. With their governments heavily involved in Israel, this explains why the US and UK are more reluctant to recognise Palestinian statehood to protect their own relations. 


On March 25, the UN’s Security Council adopted a resolution demanding a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and to this day the fighting has not stopped. All the resolutions of the Security Council are international law, and thus, binding. However, the U.S. abstained from the vote, describing the resolution as ‘non-binding’, and undermining the international system. By not showing their support, the US made implementation of the resolution difficult, as the resolution must be applied and accepted by all parties in order for it to take further effect through things like sanctions and military force. 


Many UN members have pushed back against these remarks, questioning the U.S.’s loyalty to the UN Charter, which states that “members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council.” If the U.S. sees this resolution as ‘non-binding’, what does that mean for future resolutions and their compliance with the charter? As deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq says, chartering laws is one thing but implementation of the law is ‘a question of international will’. 


The problem of recognising a Palestinian state is that it is largely a symbolic gesture, and, as the UN's failed resolution has shown, does not directly address the accompanying issues with the conflict. Complex questions of borders, capitals, and how to achieve peace convolute the Israel-Palestine conflict and do not come with any guarantee of peace. Countries’ recognition of statehood is a good start towards putting pressure on a ceasefire, but without support from major Western powers, the current reality seems unlikely to change.


Image by Scottgunn via Flickr

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