Recognizing the State of Palestine: a step in the right direction?

, by Antonios Tashejian

Recognizing the State of Palestine: a step in the right direction?
English: Demonstration for standing with Palestine in Tunisia Tunis Kassba square Brahim Guedich, CC BY-SA 4.0 <> , via Wikimedia Commons

In a recent informal interview with Spanish media, PM Pedro Sanchez hinted that his government would consider recognizing the State of Palestine by July of 2024. This declaration comes at a tense time concurrent with Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza; and different ideas and recommendations are being touted about by different governments and organizations. In this article, we look at the current state of recognition of Palestine as a sovereign country and proceed to discuss the prospects of more EU countries recognizing the State of Palestine and what this means for a prospective peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

Currently 9 out of the EU’s 27 member states recognize Palestine as a state. These are: Czechia, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Sweden, Malta and Cyprus. An intertwined question remains to be asked: why have these 9 countries recognized the State of Palestine and why have the other 18 members have not so far?

Israel argues that recognizing the State of Palestine damages the prospects for a peaceful settlement. Successive Israeli governments would want this recognition to be part of a future lasting peace deal. However, with ’peace’ being far from the horizon given the current circumstances, some countries deem it important to recognize the State of Palestine first, to push both parties into a two-state solution. This is primarily the argument made by Spain and touted by Belgium. The United States itself declared it is studying the matter.

On one end, it is indeed the noble thing to do to show support and humanize the Palestinian people who have been suffering through successive measures of displacement, dispossession, heavy policing and living under two different authoritarian governments — in the West Bank and in Gaza. With the former’s standing being jeopardized by the presence and continuous expansion of Israeli settlements (deemed illegal under international law) and the de-facto annexation of parts of its territory by Israel and the latter’s misfortunes being caused by Hamas’ terrorist practices and the resulting blockades and wars, culminating in the bloodiest war yet after the pogrom of October 7, 2023 which it committed.

While it is disingenuous to believe the current Israeli government is interested in a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians or that the recognition of a Palestinian State would harm a future peace deal, a concern begs to be raised. Is a two-state solution the ideal solution for Israel-Palestine? There are numerous proposals floating around such as a bi-national state advanced by certain groups in the Israeli left, especially in academic circles. Otherwise, others deem a unitary state where both peoples live together in one country as fairer - especially to Palestinians. Whatever one thinks of these two proposals - two of many - they must not be discarded quickly. For a just and lasting peace, all options must be addressed.

Thus, recognizing Palestine as a state might therefore hinder a future peace agreement not following the two-states formula, but one can also argue that the recognition of the state of Israel by all 27 members of the EU is hypocritical.

As the EU still struggles with espousing a common foreign policy, exemplified by (1) The European Commission and Parliament Presidents, Von der Leyen and Metsola’s visit to Israel after October 7 upsetting the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy chief, Borrell, and (2) different EU member states approaching the ongoing war in Gaza differently, the main talking point of the EU remains a two state solution with numerous demands such as the disbandment of Hamas in Gaza and the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, among other things.

The aim of this article is to elaborate on the ongoing thought process of EU countries’ position(s) on Israel/Palestine. Given the precarious situation in Gaza, an authoritarian government in the West Bank and an irresponsive and arguably irresponsible extreme-right wing government in Israel, added to the United States’ mostly unequivocal support for Israel (despite minor criticisms), the European Union must play a fair game and use its soft power to influence both parties into an agreement. The pogrom of October 7 and the subsequent hostage-taking is still a symptom of the conflict as opposed to its cause, which is why it is not faulty to seek peace. This could possibly happen through the recognition of a Palestinian State as a stepping stone to further the need for a peace deal and not as a means to hinder as Israel argues.

In essence, I believe that recognizing Palestinian statehood is first and foremost a symbolic gesture by the EU which humanizes the Palestinian people, it signals to the Palestinian side that the European Union remains impartial, unequivocally supporting Israel’s right to defend its citizens while still believing in the Palestinians’ rights to self-determination. However, if for any reason a hypothetical future peace deal does not include a two-state solution, who are the EU and the US, to tell the opposing parties otherwise?

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