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EXPLAINER: What does recognition of Palestine mean?

William Denselow in Brussels

Palestinian flags hang on the front of the Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. /Damien Eagers/Reuters
Palestinian flags hang on the front of the Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. /Damien Eagers/Reuters

Palestinian flags hang on the front of the Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. /Damien Eagers/Reuters

This week saw three EU countries announce their recognition of Palestine as a state, a move that sparked predictable outrage from Israel.  

The decision by Spain, Ireland and Norway to announce their acceptance of Palestine means that more than 140 out of the 193 United Nations members have taken such a stance. Yet with very few of those countries coming from the European Union, the trio's announcement is major news.

Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz on Friday announced that the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem will no longer be allowed to provide services to Palestinians from the West Bank. 

The move comes after second deputy prime minister Yolanda Díaz said in a statement welcoming Madrid's decision to recognize the Palestinian state: "We can't stop here. Palestine will be free from the river to the sea."

So what does recognition mean?

Norway's Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said the recognition of a Palestinian state is a "prerequisite for achieving peace in the Middle East."

It was a point reiterated by the Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris, who said in a video address that "permanent peace can only be secured on the basis of the free will of a free people. The people of Palestine deserve a future filled with hope, a future defined by success instead of suffering, a future at peace."

He added that a two-state solution is the only credible path to peace and security for both Israel and Palestine.

Some analysts say that, while the move is largely symbolic, it is intended to put pressure on Israel. The county's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vocally opposed the notion of a two-state solution, saying that such a move would compromise Israeli security.

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls the denial of the Palestinian people's right to statehood "unacceptable."


Why are these three countries acting now?

The move comes as Israel is facing increasing pressure from the international community to cease its military operations in Rafah.

The United Nations warns that the humanitarian situation in the southern Gaza city is deteriorating. UN agencies say food distribution has been suspended due to security concerns and a lack of supplies.


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Israel says it's engaged in a tragic war with Hamas that it neither wanted nor started. According to Gaza's health ministry, more than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel launched its campaign against Hamas in the Palestinian enclave following the October 7 attack.

Israeli officials say they are acting within the confines of international law and take steps to protect civilians.

The UN has urged Israel to do more to protect civilians and allow more aid into the Gaza Strip.


What is the EU position?

The European Union's response has been far from unified. The positions adopted by various European powers are diverse and often firmly-rooted in historical context.

Analysts say the result is that the EU struggles to speak with one voice on this topic.

"This means that the EU will play no role in the future of Israel Palestine and all the peace agreements. Unfortunately from the European side I'm afraid the divisions, the divided Europe just means that there's nothing to do in the future," said Koert Debeuf, Middle East Studies professor at Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

EU Foreign Affairs Chief, Josep Borrell, said he has taken note of the decision made by the EU member states of Spain and Ireland, as well as the action of Norway.

Borrell said he will work "relentlessly" with member states to promote a common position based on a two-state solution.

EXPLAINER: What does recognition of Palestine mean?

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