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  •   Home > News > National

    Norway, Ireland, Spain recognise Palestinian statehood: what this means for Middle East peace – expert Q&A

    Middle East expert, Simon Mabon, answers our questions about what this key development might mean for the prospects of peace in the region.

    Simon Mabon, Professor of International Relations, Lancaster University
    The Conversation


    Norway, Ireland and Spain have all announced plans to recognise the state of Palestine on May 28. The move has drawn harsh criticism from Israel, which has withdrawn its ambassadors from the three countries.

    Jonas Gahr Støre, the Norwegian prime minister, said: “There cannot be peace in the Middle East if there is no recognition.”

    Simon Harris, the Irish prime minister, said: “Just as Ireland’s recognition as a state eventually led to the establishment of our now peaceful republic, we believe that Palestinian statehood will contribute to peace and to reconciliation in the Middle East.”

    We spoke with Simon Mabon, a professor of international politics at the Lancaster University who has spent many years observing the political dynamics of the Middle East, to unravel the likely ramifications of this latest development.

    As of the beginning of May this year, 143 countries already recognised Palestine as an independent state. They voted to admit Palestine to the United Nations (where it presently has observer status). So how important are these declarations from Norway, Ireland and Spain?

    The decision to recognise Palestine as a state is a hugely significant and symbolic step, particularly when taken by western states. The decision highlights the growing support for Palestinian self-determination across much of the world – and the decisions have been welcomed by the Arab League. And yet, recognition by these states alone is not enough.

    Prominent western powers – including the US, UK, France and Germany – have thus far refrained from recognising Palestine on the basis that it would “undermine” the moribund Oslo peace process. The Oslo accords articulated a vision of peaceful co-existence between two states – the so-called “two state solution” – yet the absence of an internationally recognised sovereign state of Palestine undermines this whole approach.

    The US and UK remain hold-outs on this. To what extent have the positions of the UK and other western European states been influence by Washington’s steadfast support for Israel?

    For much of the past century, states across the west have largely been reluctant to diverge from US positions on particular issues, with Washington support for Israel central in much of this. Moving away from America’s explicitly pro-Israel stance would have provoked much ire in the Washington beltway, creating friction in diplomatic relations with the dominant global power.

    And yet, over the past year, officials from the UK, US and other EU member states have indicated some degree of support for the establishment of a Palestinian state. The devastation of Gaza has pushed this forward, demonstrating the need for a breakthrough and moves towards a lasting peace.

    The US is reportedly exploring the possibility of recognising Palestine as part of a “grand bargain” that involves an end to the war in Gaza and Saudi Arabia’s recognition of the state of Israel. Yet Saudi officials have made it clear that recognition of Israel can only occur after the war in Gaza is ended and an “independent Palestinian state is recognised on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital”.

    Other states across the Middle East have tied the post-conflict reconstruction of Gaza to Palestinian statehood. All the while, Israeli officials – must notably Benjamin Netanyahu – have vocally condemned these moves, with Israel’s ambassadors to Norway, Spain and Ireland immediately recalled.

    The establishment of Palestine as an independent state is a key precursor to a two-state solution. Looking at a map of the region as it stands now, it seems almost impossible to imagine. What’s the best option for determining the borders of the two redesigned nations?

    If one looks at the Palestinian pages of the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office website, their title is the “Occupied Palestinian Territories”. This stems from the fallout of the 1967 war – known as the six-day war – where Israeli forces occupied the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Sinai peninsula, and most of the Golan Heights. The capture of these territories was not recognised by the international community. Most continue to recognise East Jerusalem and the West Bank as occupied.

    On recognising a Palestinian state, Ireland’s foreign minister, Michael Martin, declared that this entity would be based on its 1967 borders, meaning that the Palestinian state includes Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem existing as the capital of both an Israeli and Palestinian state. The practicalities of this, however, are far more complex, stemming from the presence of illegal settlements across the West Bank, and broader questions of security.

    The Oslo II accord established administrative divisions across the West Bank ahead of a final status agreement. Area A, of 18% of the territory, is administered by the Palestinian Authority under Palestinian police control. Area B, of 22% of the territory, is administered by the Palestinian Authority with security control shared with Israel. Area C, by far the largest at 60%, is solely administered by Israel and is home to an estimated 300,000 Palestinians and 400,000 Israeli settlers. This poses further challenges to reaching a final status agreement.

    Map showing division of Palestinian territories under Oslo II Accord.
    How the Oslo II Accord divided up the Occupied Palestinian Territories. ResearchGate

    The rising influence of the religious right in Israel further complicates matters. Members of the religious right have gained prominence in the Knesset [parliament], while associated settler moments continue to capture land across Area C and violently abuse indigenous Palestinians across the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. Reaching a final status agreement necessitates addressing these challenges, along with the existential issue of the claims over Jerusalem.

    Israel’s core position, and one that is supported by the US, is that it must have guaranteed security. But an independent Palestinian state will presumably manage its own security as well as an independent foreign policy. So what if the newly independent Palestine seeks to ally itself closely with powers that are openly hostile towards Israel and the west, including Iran and Russia?

    Questions about security have plagued efforts to reach a final status agreement. For Israelis, their broad engagement with the Palestinian territories have been driven by security issues, including the blockade of Gaza and the “separation barrier” and checkpoints across the West Bank.

    Continuing to exercise security oversight over the West Bank has been central to Israel’s stance and engagement with areas B and C. The establishment of a Palestinian state would, by definition, remove Israel’s security oversight. This is because the new Palestinian state would necessarily be sovereign and, by definition, require that others adhere to the principle of non-interference in its affairs. This potentially poses a significant challenge to Israel’s security calculations. Members of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) regularly enter the West Bank and Gaza to “mow the lawn”, a strategic process of targeted killings.

    A new Palestinian state would not be short of allies, across the Arab world and beyond. Sovereign states are by definition free to establish independent foreign policies and to ally with whoever they may choose.

    We know that Hamas has received support from Iran, itself vocal in its hostility to Israel, but the nature of this support differs from Tehran’s engagement with Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Popular Mobilisation Units in Iraq, or the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Following the recent spate of attacks that took place between Israel and Iran, any alliance between a Palestinian state and Iran would be seen as a serious security challenge by policymakers across Israel.

    The stakes are high – but the situation looks increasingly desperate from all sides. With a devastatingly high death toll and the devastation of life across Gaza as well as the continued occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank and with a final status agreement increasingly unlikely, something must change.

    The Conversation

    Simon Mabon is affiliated with the Foreign Policy Centre. He receives funding from Carnegie Corporation of New York and The Henry Luce Foundation.

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.
    © 2024 TheConversation, NZCity

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