Why should the EU recognize the State of Palestine?

, by Momin Badarna

Why should the EU recognize the State of Palestine?
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The European Union (EU) and its member states have always been divided in their position vis-à-vis Palestine and its international recognition. Several member states have recognized the State of Palestine before acceding to the EU, states including, but not limited to, Hungary and Czech Republic. Despite this recognition, these states became closer to Israel in the last two decades and are now considered as European allies. While there are other member states such as Sweden, which became the first EU member state to recognize the Palestinian state, there are other member states, which oppose such a recognition.

The EU member states have shown their division on Palestine in several international settings, including the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, when EU member states had to vote for or against resolution 67/19, which was to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state at the UN. The result was not very surprising - 14 member states voted for recognizing Palestine as a non-member observer state, the Czech Republic was the only member state to vote against the resolution, and the rest of the member states abstained.

To have a common position on such a sensitive issue is difficult - after all, to officially recognize a state is a national decision to make. Thus, it becomes even more difficult when this recognition is being discussed at an EU level. However, in this article, I am going to briefly give a few reasons for which I believe should lead the EU and its member states to recognize the Palestinian state.

Keeping up the rhythm

The EU has gone from not recognizing the Palestinian people to supporting a Palestinian state in almost fifty years. The EU has had several phases, which marked their support to the Palestinians. First, the EEC (later became the EU) recognized the existence of the Palestinian people and their legitimate rights through a joint statement released by the nine governments of the EEC in 1973.

Seven years later, in 1980, the EEC also agreed on the Venice declaration, which was a stepping stone for the EU support to the Palestinians. The EU, in this declaration, supported the right of self-determination of the Palestinians, which implicitly meant the possibility of a potentially independent Palestinian independent. Later, the EU went further, explicitly supporting the ‘option of a Palestinian state’ in the Berlin declaration, and then to support Jerusalem as a capital for both Palestine and Israel in the 2009 Council conclusions.

We can notice the shift in the European position on Palestine over the past years. It is a change of position towards supporting freedom, justice, peace and a refusal of illegitimate occupation. This is the first reason why the EU should keep up this rhythm. The occupation will not end, and freedom will not be gained until there is an independent Palestinian state that is recognized and supported by major actors such as the EU.

EU Aid being used more effectively

The EU is the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and The European Commission is the biggest donor of external assistance to the Palestinians. This includes capacity building, humanitarian assistance, democratic governance and socio-economic development. However, this aid might not be effectively used due to several factors, including political stagnation and the occupation. In 2011, the former High Representative, Catherine Ashton, stated that "today, Palestinian institutions compare favourably with those in established states.”

Additionally, in the same year, the International Monetary Fund noted that "the PA is now able to conduct the sound economic policies expected of a future well-functioning Palestinian state”. €85 million of the EU assistance went toward salaries and pensions. If Palestine was to be recognized as a state, it would be able to sign trade and cooperation agreements with other states, association agreements with the EU - which the French foreign minister has supported. This would assist the Palestinian State in improving its economy, making it less dependent on foreign and EU aid, and thus capable of meeting its financial obligations. The fact that Palestine is not recognized by some states will hinder its ability to sign trade agreements, join the WTO, and to agree on an association agreement with the EU, which requires unanimity.

Moreover, every year, the EU allocates around 15 million euros for development projects in East-Jerusalem in order to keep the two-state solution breathing. If the EU and its member states recognize the Palestinian state with Jerusalem as a shared capital, as the EU has already officially declared, this money can be more effectively used. As an alternative, the money may not be needed at all since the two-state solution would become real, which was the purpose of this money. Moreover, the EU supports democratic governance, but at the same time, members of Palestinian political parties are being arrested and denied their right to move. This means that the assistance - technical or financial - provided by the EU would not be achieving its objectives.

An opportunity for the EU

As already explained, to have a common EU position is very difficult to achieve. However, it is also an opportunity for the EU to have a single vital voice in the Middle East, to step in front of the U.S, which has been making unilateral decisions, and to call other countries to follow decisions based on international law. The EU can use its very distinctive feature, which is the group of 28/27 member states. In international settings, the EU can have a huge political weight if member states have a common position and this will definitely influence other countries’ positions.

By using its power, the EU can be a power of legitimization and delegitimization at the same time. Therefore, this would enhance the ability of the EU to use its normative power to boost other states’ attention to the way the EU acts and speaks. In light of increasing unilateral decisions in an international community, it is also an opportunity for EU member states to affirm their commitment to international conventions and treaties, to support the right of self-determination and to make decisions that are in compliance with international law.

Representing the people

Several member states’ parliaments - and the European Parliament itself - have taken non-binding votes to recognize Palestine as a state. This happened in the United Kingdom, France, Ireland, Sweden and so on. The European Parliament had its vote in 2014, when MEPs votedfor “in principle recognition of Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution, and believes these should go hand in hand with the development of peace talks, which should be advanced”. These parliaments are directly elected by their people and thus, they represent their people. This provides the EU with another reason to recognize the Palestinian state, which is to mirror the people’s will.

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