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Norway, Ireland, Spain to recognise Palestinian state

The move by Ireland, Norway and Spain to recognise a Palestinian state sparked delight from Palestinians and fury from Israel
— Madrid (AFP)

Norway, Ireland and Spain on Wednesday announced they will recognise a Palestinian state from next week, highlighting the European Union's deep split over the issue as the Israel-Hamas war rages.

The three nations hope other countries will follow suit, but France said now was not the right moment -- yet Paris noted recognition was not "taboo".

The announcement by prime ministers Jonas Gahr Store of Norway, Spain's Pedro Sanchez and Simon Harris of Ireland came days after the International Criminal Court prosecutor said he would seek arrest warrants for Israel's prime minister and Hamas leaders.

Sanchez, who has visited several nations to drum up support for recognition, said the move would reinforce efforts to revive a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.

Sanchez said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was jeopardising those efforts with the devastating Gaza offensive that has raged since Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel.

"Fighting the Hamas terrorist group is legitimate and necessary after October 7, but Netanyahu is causing so much pain, destruction and resentment in Gaza and the rest of Palestine that the two-state solution is in danger," Sanchez told parliament.

Israel reacted with fury again, immediately recalling its envoys to the three nations.

"The intention of several European countries to recognise a Palestinian state is a reward for terror," Netanyahu said, adding a sovereign State of Palestine would be a "terror state".

The Palestine Liberation Organization hailed the move as "historical". Gaza's rulers Hamas praised what it called an "important step" that resulted from the "brave resistance" of Palestinians.

According to the Palestinian Authority, which rules parts of the occupied West Bank, 142 of the 193 UN members already recognise a Palestinian state.

- 'Only alternative' -

Sweden, which has a large Palestinian community, became the first European Union member in western Europe to recognise Palestinian statehood in 2014.

A Palestinian state was recognised by Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania before they joined the EU.

Norway -- which has played a key role in Middle East diplomacy, hosting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the 1990s that led to the Oslo Accords -- said recognition was needed to support moderate voices amid the Gaza war.

"In the midst of a war... we must keep alive the only alternative that offers a political solution for Israelis and Palestinians alike: Two states, living side by side, in peace and security," Store said, adding that the move could give renewed momentum for peace talks.

Harris drew parallels with international recognition of the Irish state in 1919.

"From our own history, we know what it means," he went on, referring to Ireland's declaration of independence from British rule, which eventually led to formal statehood.

In March, Slovenia and Malta signed a statement with Spain and Ireland expressing their willingness to recognise a Palestinian state.

Slovenia's government this month passed a decree on recognising a Palestinian state that will be sent to parliament for approval by mid-June.

- Not 'taboo' -

France said recognising a Palestinian state was not "taboo".

But Paris "does not consider that the conditions have been present to date for this decision to have a real impact in this process", French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said in a statement.

Germany, which also advocates a two-state solution, argues such recognition should be the result of direct negotiations between the parties to the conflict.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged the 27-member bloc to find common ground based on a two-state solution following the announcement.

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

The United States and most western European nations have said they are willing to one day recognise Palestinian statehood, but not before agreement is reached on thorny issues like final borders and the status of Jerusalem.

But after Hamas's October 7 attacks and Israel's retaliatory campaign in Gaza, diplomats are reconsidering once-contentious ideas.

The attacks resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the Israeli army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed more than 35,700 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.