A municipality building in the West Bank city of Ramallah is adorned with flags of Spain, Ireland and Norway. Image Credit: AFP

MADRID: Spain, Ireland and Norway are formally recognising a Palestinian state on Tuesday in a decision slammed by Israel as a “reward” for Hamas more than seven months into the devastating Gaza war.

The three European countries believe their initiative has strong symbolic impact, which is likely to encourage others to follow suit.

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“Recognition of the State of Palestine is not only a matter of historic justice... It is also an essential requirement if we are all to achieve peace,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said before meeting his cabinet.

The move, he said, was “not against anyone, least of all Israel”.

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“It is the only way to move towards the solution that we all recognise as the only possible way to achieve a peaceful future - that of a Palestinian state living side-by-side with the state of Israel in peace and security.”

Sanchez also said the decision reflected Spain’s “outright rejection of Hamas, which is against the two-state solution” and whose October 7 attacks led to the Gaza war.

The plans were unveiled last week in a coordinated announcement by the prime ministers of the three countries.

About 144 of the 193 member-states of the United Nations recognise Palestine as a state, including most of the global south, Russia, China and India. But only a handful of the 27 European Union members do so, mostly former Communist countries as well as Sweden and Cyprus.
Other states have said they are considering following suit, including Britain, Australia, Malta and Slovenia.
The decision to recognise Palestinian statehood by three major European nations is mostly symbolic, but it makes Israel appear more isolated on the international stage.
The move could also prove significant if, as the three countries hope, other nations follow in recognising Palestinian statehood.
Alon Liel, a former director general of Israel’s foreign ministry, said it may also have an impact on public opinion within Israel as these nations were viewed by many as diplomatic role models.
Israel reacted angrily and immediately withdrew its ambassadors from the three countries and summoned their representatives in Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said such recognition effectively rewards Hamas, which governs Gaza and staged the Oct. 7 attack on Israel from its Gaza base, for its violence.
The war in Gaza was triggered on Oct. 7 when Hamas militants burst across Israel’s southern border and carried out the bloodiest attack in the country’s 75-year history.
“Sanchez, when you... recognize a Palestinian state, you are complicit in incitement to genocide against the Jewish people and in war crimes,” Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz wrote on X on Tuesday.
Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected the concept of a “two-state” solution and said such recognition would neither bring peace nor change its resolve to eradicate Hamas.
The Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, and Hamas welcomed the recognition by Spain, Norway and Ireland.
The United States supports a two-state solution, but says that this is something that can only be achieved through direct dialogue between the two parties and not through the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state by other nations.
Last month, the United States effectively vetoed an attempt at United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state by denying Palestinians full membership in a vote in the Security Council.
Spain, Norway and Ireland spent months lobbying EU members to join them in their announcement, but the issue still divides some of the bloc’s biggest countries.
France said Palestinian statehood is not a “taboo” for Paris, but that now is not the right time. Germany stressed its long-term goal is for a two-state solution, but, like the U.S., said that that could only come through dialogue.

Both the Spanish and Irish cabinets met to formally approve the step on Tuesday morning, while Norway informed Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Mustafa its recognition would also take effect the same day.

Entering the cabinet meeting, Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris said it was “an important moment”.

He said it sent “a signal to the world is that there are practical actions you can take as a country to help keep the hope... of a two-state solution alive”.

"The Government recognises Palestine as a sovereign and independent state and agreed to establish full diplomatic relations between Dublin and Ramallah," a statement later said.

"An Ambassador of Ireland to the State of Palestine will be appointed along with a full Embassy of Ireland in Ramallah." 

"This decision of Ireland is about keeping hope alive.

It is about believing that a two-state solution is the only way for Israel and Palestine to live side by side in peace and security," he said in the statement.

"I again call on Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel to listen to the world and stop the humanitarian catastrophe we are seeing in Gaza." (Reporting by Muvija M and Conor Humphries; editing by William James)

‘Incitement to genocide’

The decision has provoked a furious response from Israel and further exacerbated diplomatic tensions, notably with Spain.

Last week, Sanchez’s far-left deputy Yolanda Diaz hailed the move saying: “We cannot stop. Palestine will be free from the river to the sea”, which Israel’s Madrid envoy denounced as a “clear call for the elimination of Israel”.

The slogan refers to the British mandate borders of Palestine, which stretched from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean before Israel was created in 1948.

On Tuesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz went even further.

“Sanchez, as long as you don’t fire your deputy and you recognise a Palestinian state, you are participating in the incitement to commit genocide and war crimes against the Jewish people,” he wrote on X.

On Sunday, Katz posted a video on X splicing footage of the October 7 attacks with flamenco dancing, saying: “Sanchez: Hamas thanks you for your service”.

Spain condemned the post as “scandalous and revolting”.

On Monday, Katz ordered the first of a series of “preliminary punitive measures”, ordering Spain’s Jerusalem consulate to stop offering consular services to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Differences within the EU

Recognising Palestinian statehood has provoked sharp disagreement within the 27-nation European Union.

For decades, formal recognition of a Palestinian state has been seen as the endgame of a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Washington and most Western European nations have said they are willing to one day recognise Palestinian statehood, but not before agreement on thorny issues like the status of Jerusalem and final borders.

The Gaza bloodshed has revived calls for Palestinians to be given their own state.

Ever more European countries are expressing a desire to do so, although others remain reticent.

France, for example, believes it is not the right time to do so, while Germany only envisages recognition following negotiations between the two sides.

Tuesday’s move will mean 145 of the United Nations’ 193 member states now recognise Palestinian statehood.

In 2014, Sweden became the first EU member to recognise a Palestinian state.

It followed six other European countries that took the step before joining the bloc - Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania.

On October 7, Hamas fighters stormed into southern Israel in an assault that killed more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza. The Israeli army says 37 of them are dead.

Israel’s relentless retaliatory offensive has killed more than 36,000 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.