Source: CNN

Ireland, Spain and Norway have announced plans to formally recognize a Palestinian state next week, in a move that is likely to bolster the global Palestinian cause but further strain relations between Europe and Israel.

The three European nations say their landmark decision is the best way to achieve lasting peace in the Middle East, but it sparked swift condemnation from Israel, as its foreign minister ordered the immediate recall of its ambassadors from those countries.

Most of the world already recognizes Palestinian statehood. More than 140 out of 193 member states of the United Nations have made their recognition official. But only some nations in the 27-member European Union are among them.

Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris told a Wednesday news conference in Dublin: “Today, Ireland, Norway and Spain are announcing that we recognize the state of Palestine. Each of us will now undertake whatever national steps are necessary to give effect to that decision.”

“There is never a wrong time to do the right thing,” Harris later said, speaking to CNN’s Christiana Amanpour on Thursday.

“It was my government’s preferred position to recognize a two-state solution as part of a peace process to bring that about, but sadly, unfortunately, such a comprehensive peace settlement now seems, in many ways, further away than it has ever been,” Harris said.

“We believe you can’t say you’re in favor of a two-state solution and not recognize the very existence of two states,” he added.

The recognition will come into force in all three countries on May 28, according to Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin.

Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said that a Palestinian state was “a prerequisite for achieving peace in the Middle East.”

“There will be no peace in the Middle East without a two-state solution,” Støre said in a statement. “There can be no two-state solution without a Palestinian state.”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez sought to characterize the decision as one that was not anti-Israel.

“This recognition is not against the people of Israel and certainly not against the Jewish people,” he said. “It’s not in favor of Hamas. It’s in favor of co-existence.”

The announcement was welcomed by Palestinian officials.

“This step reflects Spain’s keenness to support the Palestinian people and their inalienable and legitimate rights to their land and homeland,” the office of the president of the Palestinian Authority said in response to Madrid’s decision, as reported by Palestinian news agency Wafa.

Hamas, the militant group which governs Gaza, urged other countries to follow suit and “recognize our legitimate national rights, support the struggle of our people for liberation and independence, and end the Zionist occupation of our land.”

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said recognizing a Palestinian state would be a “reward for terror.”

“This will be a terror state, which will attempt to perpetrate the onslaught of October 7 time and again, and to that we shall not agree,” Netanyahu said, adding, “this evil must not be given a state.”

As Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz ordered the immediate recall of its ambassadors to Spain, Norway and Ireland, he said, in a statement: “I am sending a clear message today — Israel will not hold back against those who undermine its sovereignty and endanger its security.”

“After the terrorist organization Hamas carried out the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, after it committed the most horrific sex crimes the world has seen, these countries chose to give a reward to Hamas and Iran and recognize a Palestinian state,” Katz added.

Israel launched its military offensive in Gaza on October 7 after militants led by Hamas killed at least 1,200 people and abducted more than 250 others.

Israel has come under fierce criticism for its war. Earlier this month, a panel of independent UN experts condemned “the continued and systematic onslaught of violence committed against Palestinians in Gaza.” The agency has repeatedly called for a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of hostages taken by Hamas.

Israeli attacks in Gaza have since killed at least 35,647 Palestinians and injured another 79,852 people, according to the Ministry of Health there. CNN cannot independently confirm the figures.

Two-state solution

All three European leaders stressed the importance of having Palestinian statehood in reaching a two-state solution in the Middle East, a decades-long goal that the international community has failed to achieve.

Ireland’s Foreign Minister Martin said the decision came amid “growing impatience” with Israel’s lack of political will for a two-state solution.

“The integrity of that two-state solution has been undermined in recent years by the strategy of the Israeli government and, in particular, the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has declared opposition to it,” Martin told CNN’s Richard Quest during a live interview.

Meanwhile, Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide told CNN’s Becky Anderson that Israel was wrong to see recognizing Palestinian statehood as rewarding Hamas.

“We are sending the opposite signal. We are supporting the Palestine authorities which spring out of the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] who renounce violence and who many decades ago promised to leave the violent struggle behind and work for peaceful settlement with Israel — a promise they have kept by the way,” Eide said.

Senior officials in the United States, a close ally of Israel, have insisted the only way to bring peace and stability to the region is through the creation of a Palestinian state with guarantees for Israel’s security. Lawmakers in Israel have long rejected those calls.

Reacting to the news on Wednesday, a National Security Council spokesperson told CNN that US President Joe Biden “is a strong supporter” of a two-state solution. The spokesperson added, however: “He believes a Palestinian state should be realized through direct negotiations between the parties, not through unilateral recognition.”

France, meanwhile, said that now is not the “right time” for it to join its European neighbors in recognizing a Palestinian state. The country’s foreign minister, Stephane Séjourne, added that such a decision is not merely a “symbolic issue or a question of political positioning” but rather a “diplomatic tool” in the service of a two-state solution.

Germany, another one of Israel’s staunchest allies, also questioned the decision. Michael Roth, the chair of the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, posted on X: “I’m not convinced that the recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state is an appropriate measure after the horrific massacres (by) Hamas (on) October 7 last year.”

Qatar, a key mediator in stalled ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas, said it hopes “for more countries to recognize the State of Palestine,” according to a statement from the foreign ministry. The foreign ministry of Saudi Arabia, another regional actor, called on “more countries to swiftly take the same stance.”

Ireland has a long history of being openly supportive of the Palestinian cause, consistently criticizing Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank and Gaza before Hamas’ October 7 attack in Israel. Since then, Israel’s war in response has shredded huge parts of the Gaza Strip and drained critical supplies, exposing the entire population of more than 2.2 million people to the risk of famine.

“I can say this to the people of Israel: we recognize the state of Israel. We recognize the state of Israel’s right to live in peace and security. That is their right. The people of Palestine also must have an equivalent right to peace and security,” Harris told Amanpour on Thursday.

“And let me also say this to the people of Israel: the Irish people know what it’s like to have their national identity hijacked by a terrorist organization. The IRA was never the people of Ireland and Hamas is not the people of Palestine.”

“We have been clear and unequivocal that we condemn Hamas, that we condemn the most horrific barbaric massacre that Israel experienced on the 7th of October. We call for the unconditional and immediate release of all hostages. But it is entirely possible to say what I have just said and also say the next bit which sadly some refuse to say: that what is happening in Palestine, what is happening in Gaza is a humanitarian catastrophe, that children are being starved, are being deprived of food and that there are children who will go to sleep in Gaza tonight not sure if they will wake in the morning,” he added.

A source familiar with the matter told CNN the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently considering further diplomatic steps against the three countries.

Steps under consideration include cancelling visits of officials from these countries to Israel and revoking visas from diplomats, which will limit their ability to visit areas in the West Bank under control of the Palestinian Authority, the source said. Another step under consideration by Israel is to reach out to the US to seek diplomatic support in providing clarification from Norway, Ireland and Spain on their intended decision, and to ask the US to try and convince other countries to not follow suit.

Pressure on Israel

The planned recognition adds pressure on Israel after seven months of fighting, according to H.A. Hellyer, scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London.

“For individual Palestinians on the ground in the Occupied Territories, it’s not going to mean anything at all in the short term, perhaps in the medium term,” Hellyer told CNN. “It is obviously political recognition by states that don’t have a presence on the ground.”

Hellyer added that Israel risks becoming an “international pariah” given that Western nations are now beginning to recognize a Palestinian state.

Israel captured Gaza from Egypt in the 1967 war, then withdrew its troops and settlers in 2005. The territory, home to some 2 million Palestinians, fell under Hamas’ rule in 2007.

After Hamas took control, Israel and Egypt imposed a strict siege on the territory, which is ongoing. Israel also maintains an air and naval blockade on Gaza. These severe restrictions have been fiercely criticized by international bodies, including Amnesty International, who say Israel has violated international law.

The vast majority of the population in Gaza are descendants of 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forcibly expelled from their homes during what Palestinians call al-Nakba, or “the catastrophe,” of the 1948-49 war, in what is now Israel.

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