Palestine in 2014: the diplomatic dance to statehood

Sweden made history as the first Western European, EU member to acknowledge Palestinian statehood this year

Asma Ajroudi
Asma Ajroudi - Al Arabiya News
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Already recognized as a state by most of the developing world, 2014 is the year when Western nations began to express their growing frustration with Israeli policies, and signaling their intention to officially recognize Palestine as a UN member state. And it was Sweden, that made history as the first Western European, EU member to acknowledge Palestinian statehood this year, becoming the world’s 135th nation state to do so.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution that stated: “[the European Parliament] supports in principle recognition of Palestinian statehood and a two-state solution, and believes these should go hand in hand with the development of peace talks, which should be advanced.”

Left-wing European lawmakers had initially put forward a motion that urged the EU 28 member state to recognize Palestine immediately and without conditions. But the European parliament’s vote is still hailed as “symbolic.”

“What happened in the parliament, yes it’s symbolic, but it was a step in the right direction, that when you take it with other things that are happening in Europe, it becomes more significant,” Hugh Lovatt, Middle East peace process project officer for the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Al Arabiya News.

The Palestinian Authority are also putting forward an Arab-backed resolution before the U.N. Security Council calling for the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from the legitimate borders of 1967, which existed before the Six Day War, and the establishment of a Palestinian state with Occupied East Jerusalem as its capital. This was scheduled to happen on Wednesday but was delayed so that a compromise over the resolution text is reached.

But the European Parliament’s vote sends a “political message” to Tel Aviv that there is this “massive concern and worry in Europe that the policy of the Israeli government, and indeed previous Israeli governments, do indeed not lead to a solution to this conflict and undermine what the international community sees as a solution,” said the director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, Chris Doyle.

The collapse of the U.S.-led peace talks in April, the 50-day Israeli assault on Gaza, in which more than 2,100 Gazans and 70 Israelis have been killed, coupled with the expansion of settlements in territory the Palestinians want for their future state, led some European countries to become increasingly vocal in expressing frustration with Israel.

“The EU cannot replace the U.S. and does not want to replace the U.S. currently as the main broker in peace talks. But what the EU has indicated that it is willing to do is perhaps try to prepare some of the ground work for a more meaningful round of negotiations,” Lovatt said.

“All of this is again pointing to an increasing European frustration with Israeli policies,” he added.

“There is this growing acknowledgment that ‘yes we need to do something, but we can’t have negotiations for the sake of negotiations, so we need to try to think of something else’,” Lovatt said.

Europe’s symbolic votes come two years after the U.N. General Assembly upgraded the Palestinian Authority status from “Observer” to “Non-member state,” in effect ratifying Palestinian statehood.

The timeline of this year’s symbolic votes goes as follows:

October 14, 2014: Britain’s House of Commons voted 274-12 in favor of a non-binding motion to recognize the state of Palestine. The vote took place just a week after Sweden’s then-new center-left Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven, announced his plan to recognize Palestine as a state alongside the state of Israel during his inaugural speech before the parliament.

October 30, 2014: The Swedish government officially recognized the state of Palestine. Sweden, a close ally to Washington and an active member in Western military operations, is the first European Union member in Western Europe to officially recognize Palestine. The move angered Israel so much that it withdrew its ambassador from Stockholm.

November 19, 2014: Spanish legislators vote 319 in favor, with two opposed and one abstention, on a proposal officially calling on the government to recognize Palestine as a state. The text, which was brought by the opposition socialists, set no timeframe but stated: “This recognition should be the consequence of a process negotiated between the parties that guarantees peace and security for both, the respect of the rights of the citizens and regional stability."

December 2, 2014: France’s National Assembly votes 339 to 151 in favor of a symbolic motion to recognize the Palestinian state, echoing similar votes in Britain. The text was introduced by the ruling socialists to invite “the French government to use the recognition of the state of Palestine as an instrument to gain a definitive resolution of the conflict.”

December 11, 2014: The Irish upper house, known as the Seanad, approves a non-binding resolution calling on the government to officially recognize Palestine as a state. The motion was tabled by opposition senator Averil Power and stated: "Seanad Eireann calls on the government to formally recognize the state of Palestine and do everything it can at the international level to help secure a viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

December 12, 2014: The Portuguese parliament adopted a recommendation calling on the government to recognize the Palestinian state proposing "recognizing, in coordination with the European Union, the state of Palestine as independent and sovereign."

Non-EU member Iceland is another Western European country that officially recognizes Palestine, in addition to EU members such as Malta, Cyprus and several Central European nations that did so under communist rule in the late 80s before joining the 28-member bloc.

Speaking about the recent shift in the Western approach to Palestinian statehood, Lovatt said: “The EU member states behave a bit like a herd. So they will sort of hobble together in terms of trying to find a common position.”

“You have those who are kind of prepared to take a more proactive approach, a bold approach, and then they will move in a direction, then you have a few others that would follow them,” he said.

The shift is more about the Israelis “losing support” rather than about the Palestinians performing better on the diplomatic arena, said Doyle.

People began to question, Doyle said, “How is it possible that a government pretends in Tel Aviv, that it supports a two-state solution and the state of Palestine, but at the same time is continuing to expand settlements, and is continuing to increase the number of settlers.”

“This does not lead to a peaceful conclusion to this conflict,” added Doyle. “It is a start of a momentum, and I think it is faster than many people thought.”

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