Norway, Ireland and Spain say they are recognizing a Palestinian state, deepening Israel's isolation

Jonas Gahr Støre
Norway's Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store, right, with Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, speaks during a news conference in Oslo, Norway, Wednesday. Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz has ordered Israel’s ambassadors from Ireland and Norway to immediately return to Israel, as Norway said it would recognize a Palestinian state and Ireland was expected to do the same.
Erik Flaaris Johansen | NTB Scanpix via AP

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It's a historic but also a largely symbolic move that deepens Israel’s isolation more than seven months into its grinding war against Hamas in Gaza.

Norway, Ireland and Spain said on Wednesday they are recognizing a Palestinian state, in a historic but largely symbolic move that deepens Israel’s isolation more than seven months into its grinding war against Hamas in Gaza.

The announcements came as the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense minister and the International Court of Justice is considering allegations of genocide that Israel has strenuously denied.

Palestinians welcomed the announcements as an affirmation of their decades-long quest for statehood in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — territories Israel seized in the 1967 Mideast war and still controls.

Israel recalled its ambassadors to the three countries and summoned their envoys, accusing the Europeans of rewarding the militant Hamas group for its Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war.

Netanyahu's government, which is opposed to Palestinian statehood, says the conflict can only be resolved through direct negotiations, which last collapsed over 15 years ago.

As if to underline the point, Israel's far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir paid a provocative visit Wednesday to a flashpoint holy site in Jerusalem sacred to Jews and Muslims in a move that could escalate tensions across the region.

Ben-Gvir said the visit was a response to the move by the three European countries. “We will not even allow a statement about a Palestinian state,” he said. The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam, and the hilltop on which it stands is the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.

With their formal recognition, planned for May 28, the three countries will join some 140 — more than two-thirds of the United Nations — that have recognized the state of Palestine over the years. The United States and Britain, among others, have backed the idea of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel but say it should come as part of a negotiated settlement.

The announcements from Europe came in a swift cascade. Norway, which helped broker the Oslo accords that kicked off the peace process in the 1990s, was the first to announce its decision, with Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre saying “there cannot be peace in the Middle East if there is no recognition.”

Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris called it an “historic and important day for Ireland and for Palestine,” saying the announcements had been coordinated and that other countries might join “in the weeks ahead.”

The international community has long viewed the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as the only realistic way to resolve the conflict, and in past weeks several European Union countries have indicated they plan to recognize a Palestinian state to further those efforts.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who announced his country's decision before parliament, has spent months touring European and Middle Eastern countries to garner support for recognition, as well as for a possible cease-fire in Gaza.

“This recognition is not against anyone, it is not against the Israeli people,” Sánchez said. “It is an act in favor of peace, justice and moral consistency.” He said it was clear that Netanyahu “does not have a project for peace,” while acknowledging that “the fight against the terrorist group Hamas is legitimate.”

Israel's government harshly condemned the decision taken by the three countries. Foreign Minister Israel Katz recalled Israel's ambassadors and summoned the three countries' envoys in Israel. He said they would watch grisly video footage of the Oct. 7 attack.

“History will remember that Spain, Norway, and Ireland decided to award a gold medal to Hamas murderers and rapists," he said. He also said the announcement would undermine talks aimed at a cease-fire and hostage release in Gaza that came to a standstill earlier this month.

President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, welcomed the moves toward recognition, saying they would contribute to efforts to bring about a two-state solution.

Hamas also welcomed the decisions and called on other nations to “recognize our legitimate rights and support the struggle of our people for liberation and independence, and ending the Zionist occupation of our land.”

Hamas, which Western countries and Israel view as a terrorist group, does not recognize Israel's existence but has indicated it might agree to a state on the 1967 lines, at least on an interim basis.

The announcements are unlikely to have any impact on the ground. Israel annexed east Jerusalem and considers it part of its capital, and in the occupied West Bank it has build scores of Jewish settlements that are now home to over 500,000 Israelis. The settlers have Israeli citizenship, while the 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank live under seemingly open-ended Israeli military rule.

In Gaza, the war is still raging, and Netanyahu has said Israel will maintain open-ended security control of the territory even after any defeat of Hamas.

Hugh Lovatt, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said “recognition is a tangible step towards a viable political track leading to Palestinian self-determination.”

But in order for it to have an impact, he said, it must come with “tangible steps to counter Israel’s annexation and settlement of Palestinian territory – such as banning settlement products and financial services.”

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