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Recognising Palestine: Right Call, Wrong Time

29 May 2024
By Dr Claude Rakisits
Sinn Féin supporting Sadaka campaign for Irish Government to recognise Palestine. Source: Sinn Féin, Flickr /

The decision by three European countries to recognise Palestinian statehood doesn’t bring the establishment of an internationally recognised independent state of Palestine any closer. But it does put pressure on the region to find a permanent solution to the 75-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Norway, Ireland, and Spain formally recognised the state of Palestine on Tuesday, joining another 146 countries which had already done so. The bulk of these come from the “Global South,” with seven from central and eastern Europe. Belgium, Malta, and Slovenia have indicated they may soon do likewise. However, none of the European heavies have shown any intention of doing so as well anytime soon.

While the decision to recognise the state of Palestine is, in principle, the right one to take, it is unfortunately the wrong one to make today. Let me explain.

Right Call

The right of self-determination for all peoples who consider themselves to have a separate and distinct identity is one of the cornerstones of the existing international order. Statehood is the internationally recognised manifestation of this identity. The overwhelming vote in favour of a recent UN General Assembly resolution urging the UN Security Council to give “favourable consideration” to Palestine’s request for statehood confirms that the international community believes that Palestinians have an inherent right to an independent state of their own in which they govern themselves.

While the UN vote was largely symbolic, it is nevertheless an additional building block on the pathway to a two-state solution—Israel and Palestine living in peace and security side by side—which is overwhelmingly supported by the international community and has been, since 1991, when it was first aired at the Madrid peace conference. But while it is difficult to imagine that such a two-state arrangement is possible today given the indescribable human tragedy that has been unfolding in Gaza and Israel for almost eight months, it nevertheless remains the only credible, permanent solution for the region which could potentially bring peace, security, and development to both countries and the region. The effective state of war between Israel and Palestinians cannot go on forever.

Finally, the promise of statehood for the Palestinians would give hope to millions of Palestinians who have suffered for too long, first, under Jordanian and Egyptian administrations, and since 1967, under Israeli rule. It would also give hope to the millions of Palestinians in the diaspora in the region and beyond. But most importantly, it would trump the nihilistic appeal of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad; terrorist groups that thrive on the present misery and hopelessness of Palestinians and which want to destroy the state of Israel.

Wrong time

Making the recognition announcement when Hamas and Islamic Jihad are still holding well over a hundred civilian Israeli hostages, including women and children, under extremely traumatic conditions, sends absolutely the wrong message. It effectively appears to reward the terrorising of innocent people.

Palestinian statehood cannot be imposed on Israel. That approach will fail, particularly given the tragic events of 7 October 2023, when around 1200 people were tortured and killed by Hamas and its followers in southern Israel. Instead, it must be part of a grand regional plan which would be negotiated by all relevant regional players, and supported notably by the US, the European Union, and the UN. Such a plan, which could take months to negotiate, if not more, would include, but not exclusively, a negotiated agreement on the management of the security as well as the administration and the reconstruction of Gaza after the active fighting stops. While Arab states were not initially enthusiastic with the idea of sending troops as part of a peacekeeping force for fear of appearing to be complicit with Israel, their attitude towards such a participation appears to have shifted somewhat in favour. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmer has suggested that international troops drawn from NATO could be deployed. Given Israel’s historically difficult relationship with the UN, a UN deployment would most likely not be acceptable to Tel Aviv. Either way, the international peacekeeping force in Gaza would need to be UN Security Council-endorsed.

An integral and critical part of a grand plan would be negotiating the extremely thorny issues of the future status of East Jerusalem, the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, the borders of an independent Palestinian state, and the future of the 500,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank. While the negotiation of these issues would be very difficult and long, and would require much compromise from all sides, an iron-clad security guarantee (including a demilitarised future Palestine) for Israel, as well as diplomatic recognition by Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, Tel Aviv may well decide that agreeing to Palestinian statehood is in its best, long-term interest. In return, for normalising relations with Tel Aviv, Arab states have made clear that Israel would have to agree to “irreversible” steps towards the creation of a Palestinian state.

However, these negotiations could not take place under the current leadership of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is fundamentally opposed to a two-state solution. In any case, following the end of hostilities in Gaza, a general election will, in all likelihood, be called in Israel and, if polls are to be believed, Netanyahu’s Likud party would most likely lose the election. The new Israeli government would probably be more amiable to negotiations than the Likud Party. Similarly, the present leadership of the Palestinians, particularly the leaders of Fatah in the West Bank, would need to be replaced by less corrupt and more competent individuals. The future of the Hamas leaders, if any survive, is a big question mark. Regardless as to who leads the Israeli government, it would be difficult to envisage the Israelis negotiating with Hamas across the table. Most importantly, the international community would want to see a new team of Palestinian leaders—unburdened by historical baggage—able to govern competently a future Palestine. The last thing the region would need is another failed, corrupt state in the Middle East.

The long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be resolved. Under current conditions, no one wins and everyone feels insecure. Palestinians must be given the right to self-determination and the right to govern themselves, but not at the expense of Israel’s security. Accordingly, broad-based, regional negotiations towards a grand plan is the only path to peace, security, and development for all. If there is political will from the two major protagonists to do so—helped along with the promise of massive international funding for reconstruction—it can be done. Palestinian statehood would be an integral part of those negotiations. This is why recognising a Palestinian state is the right call, but it must be at the right time.

Dr Claude Rakisits is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Brussels-based Centre for Security, Diplomacy and Strategy (CSDS) at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

This article is published under a Creative Commons License and may be republished with attribution.