Published 18:30 IST, May 28th 2024

Spain, Ireland and Norway Recognize a Palestinian State - Why it Matters

A joint decision by two EU countries and Norway may boost EU recognition of Palestine and lead to further UN actions, potentially deepening Israel's isolation.

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Spain, Ireland & Norway Recognize a Palestinian State. Why That Matters? | Image: AP

Spain, Ireland and Norway are moving to formally recognize a Palestinian state on Tuesday, a step toward a long-held Palestinian aspiration that was fueled by international outrage over the civilian deaths and humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip following Israel’s offensive.

The joint decision by two European Union countries plus Norway, a nation with a strong diplomatic tradition in peacemaking, may generate momentum for the recognition of a Palestinian state by other EU countries and could spur further steps at the United Nations, deepening Israel’s isolation.


Previously seven members of the 27-nation European Union officially recognized a Palestinian state. Five of them are former east bloc countries who announced recognition in 1988, as did Cyprus, before joining the bloc. Sweden's recognition came in 2014.

The Czech Republic, an EU member, says that the 1988 recognition by the former Czechoslovakia — of which it then formed a part — does not apply to the modern state. Slovakia's Foreign Ministry says that the two sides confirmed their mutual recognition when Slovakia was becoming independent in 1992-93, and that the Palestinian state has a fully functioning embassy in Bratislava since 2006.


EU members Malta and Slovenia say they may follow suit, though not immediately.

Some 140 of the about 190 countries represented in the U.N. have already recognized a Palestinian state.


Here’s a look at how and why the new European announcements could be important:


A U.N. partition plan in 1947 called for the creation of a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian state, but Palestinians and the wider Arab world rejected it because it would have given them less than half of the land even though Palestinians made up two-thirds of the population.


The Arab-Israeli war the following year left Israel with even more territory, Jordan in control of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and Egypt in control of Gaza.

In the 1967 war, Israel seized all three territories, and decades of on-again, off-again peace talks have failed.


The United States, Britain and other Western countries have backed the idea of an independent Palestinian state existing alongside Israel as a solution to the Middle East’s most intractable conflict, but they insist Palestinian statehood should come as part of a negotiated settlement. There have been no substantive negotiations since 2009.

Though the EU countries and Norway won’t be recognizing an existing state, just the possibility of one, the symbolism helps enhance the Palestinians’ international standing and heaps more pressure on Israel to open negotiations on ending the war.

Also, the move lends additional prominence to the Middle East issue ahead of June 6-9 elections to the European Parliament.


Diplomatic pressure on Israel has grown as the battle with Hamas stretches into its eighth month. The U.N. General Assembly voted by a significant margin on May 11 to grant new “rights and privileges” to Palestine in a sign of growing international support for a vote on full voting membership. The Palestinian Authority currently has observer status.

The leaders of Spain, Ireland, Malta and Slovenia said in March they were considering recognizing a Palestinian state as “a positive contribution” toward ending the war.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said that his Cabinet would certify the formal recognition after a meeting Tuesday.

“This is a historic decision that has a single goal, and that is to help Israelis and Palestinians achieve peace,” Sánchez said.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said in a statement that “for more than 30 years, Norway has been one of the strongest advocates for a Palestinian state. Today, when Norway officially recognizes Palestine as a state, is a milestone in the relationship between Norway and Palestine.”


While dozens of countries have recognized a Palestinian state, none of the major Western powers has done so, and it is unclear how much of a difference the move by the three countries might make.

Even so, their recognition would mark a significant accomplishment for the Palestinians, who believe it confers international legitimacy on their struggle.

Little would likely change on the ground in the short term. Peace talks are stalled, and Israel’s hardline government has dug its heels in against Palestinian statehood.


Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz lashed out at Spain on X, saying Sánchez’s government was “being complicit in inciting genocide against Jews and war crimes.”

Israel, which rejects any move to legitimize the Palestinians internationally, recalled its ambassadors to Ireland, Norway and Spain after they announced the decision last week.

Steps like the ones by the three European countries will harden the Palestinian position and undermine the negotiating process, Israel says, insisting that all issues should be solved through negotiations.

Israel often responds to foreign countries’ decisions deemed as going against its interests by summoning those countries’ ambassadors and also punishing the Palestinians through measures such as freezing tax transfers to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.


Some 140 countries have already recognized a Palestinian, more than two-thirds of the United Nations' membership.

Some major powers have indicated their stance may be evolving amid the outcry over the consequences of Israel’s offensive in Gaza, which has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. The ministry does not distinguish between noncombatants and fighters in its count. Israel launched the offensive following the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack in which militants stormed across the Gaza border into Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking some 250 hostage.

Britain has said no recognition of a Palestinian state could come while Hamas remains in Gaza, but that it could happen while Israeli negotiations with Palestinian leaders were in progress.

France has indicated that it isn’t ready to join other countries in recognizing a Palestinian state, even if it isn’t opposed to the idea in principle. German has said it will not recognize a Palestinian state for the time being.

16:23 IST, May 28th 2024