The Complicated Task of Recognising Palestine

Published in Athens Views (print – no longer in circulation) on 5 December 2014


In an effort to push for a final resolution to the Palestinian issue, last Tuesday French lawmakers voted for the recognition of Palestine. Approved with 339 votes to 151, the vote is non-binding but, according to the Associated Press, those in favour ask the French government “to recognize the state of Palestine in view of reaching a definitive settlement to the conflict”. The vote was welcomed by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) with Hanan Ashrawi calling on “the French government to translate its parliament’s vote into action”.

The French vote follows a rising wave of Palestinian support among countries within the European Union that began with Sweden’s recognition last October. In addition to Sweden’s recognition, the UK House of Commons and the Irish Parliament passed a non-binding symbolic recognition of the Palestinian state while several British MPs keep calling the British parliament to proceed to a Palestinian recognition and urge sanctions against Israel. Spanish MPs have also voted for a non-binding recognition in October, and Belgium seems to be moving towards recognition as its parties have agreed to submit a motion for unilateral recognition. As of October 135 UN member states have officially recognised Palestine as a state.

The recent war in Gaza and the high number of civilian casualties have been a wakeup call for European counties which throughout the years have been solely condemning Israel’s stance without, taking any actual action. However, public outcry and the rising support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement seem to have put extra pressure on European governments. The failure of the peace negotiations which were re-initiated by the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, also seems to have played a role in the changing attitudes in Europe as the Palestinian issue is a long lasting open wound in the Middle East.

However, as long as the Palestinian recognition remains non-binding, Israel’s stance will not change, even if similar motions are approved by all European parliaments. If European member states, either unilaterally or as part of the Union, do not adopt a clear stance towards Israel, such moves will only have a symbolic significance. Even though such symbolic moves are still important for Palestinians, they are of no importance to Israel as it still has excellent economic relations and co-operation with the European Union.

Israel indeed does not seem to be afraid of losing the support it has from the European Union as it has taken no action to appease growing disappointment against it. Just a few days before the French vote, the Israeli government approved a controversial and much discussed bill which recognises Israel as “national homeland of the Jewish people” disregarding its Muslim and Christian minorities.

Regardless the limited impact of the symbolic recognitions, the growing support and the changing of attitudes towards Palestine can still be considered as a success for the Palestinian people. Yet this success can only be stalled by the growing wave of violence targeting Israeli civilians which is soaring in recent weeks. On Monday a Palestinian woman stabbed a civilian after she tried to wound an Israeli soldier in the southern part of the West Bank, while on Wednesday a Palestinian teenager stabbed two shoppers at a supermarket in the settlement of Maaleh Adumium. Such incidents have resulted in the rising policing of the Palestinian territories and especially in the settlements as well as the radicalisation of the Israeli population.

The recognition of the Palestinian state is a complicated case and demands efforts by both sides. The only fair solution would be a two state solution with the pre-1967 borders, yet Israel does not seem willing to discuss such an option and instead continues its offensive politics towards the Palestinian people ignoring international law. The Palestinian Authority on the other hand, despite minor diplomatic successes should seriously consider what it wants and should start working towards its goals with effective and steady steps.

The only way for actual success towards the Palestinian cause is the unity among all Palestinian sides. Although the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have agreed to a unity deal, the Gaza war last summer proved that more needs to be done and both sides should meet each other in the middle. Hamas should realise that it must give some more effort in changing negative attitudes and the Palestinian Authority should realise that it cannot move towards international recognition without taking into consideration Hamas which controls Gaza. Israel on the other hand should actually commit to the resolution of the Arab Israeli conflict and stop using the peace negotiations as a means of showing the international community that it is working towards that cause because the current government’s action proves the opposite.

 As far as the international community is concerned especially regarding European states, although non-binding recognition is a positive step forward it is still something that bears no importance when it comes to actual recognition. If the European members start taking measures collectively which will halt the current Israeli government’s stance which will make it reconsider its policies there might actually be a light at the end of the tunnel. Nevertheless, as the Israeli government decided to dissolve its parliament, the situation will probably remain the same.

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