Why is Israel angry some EU countries are recognising Palestine?

Israel has responded with sound and fury to Norway’s, Ireland’s and Spain’s decision.

Ireland, Norway, Spain to recognise Palestinian state
From left: the flags of Norway, Spain and Ireland, three countries that declared they will recognise Palestine [Al Jazeera composite image]

Ireland, Norway and Spain will formally recognise Palestine as a state for the sake of “peace in the Middle East”.

Their announcement on Wednesday triggered warnings from Israel and threats of consequences not only for the European countries but also for the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and those in the Gaza Strip.

But why is Israel so angry that these countries have decided to join much of the world in recognising Palestine?

What does recognition mean for Palestine?

Recognition fulfils a long-held Palestinian aim and places additional pressure upon the Western powers who have all committed to the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict yet have done little to further it in the past few years.

It will have few practical effects on the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank, occupied East Jerusalem and Gaza, but it is crucial to secure more avenues to hold Israeli authorities accountable, Palestinian and international human rights organisations argue.

The symbolism behind such a move helps enhance Palestinians’ international standing, allowing for more pressure to be put on Israel to end the current war in Gaza, for example.

Who recognises Palestine so far?

Globally, 143 of the 193 United Nations member states recognise a Palestinian state.

Seven European Union members have recognised Palestine: Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden and Cyprus, which announced recognition in 1988, before joining the EU.

The countries that recognise Palestine in a map
The countries that recognise Palestine

The position within the former Czechoslovakia has grown confused since it recognised Palestine in 1988. After their divorce in 1992, Slovakia continued to recognise Palestine while the Czech Republic revoked its recognition in 1992.

On Tuesday, when Ireland and Norway recognise a Palestinian state, one-third of EU members will have done so.

Who is about to recognise Palestine?

Belgium, Malta and Slovenia are also considering recognising Palestine although this may not happen in the short term.

Why is Israel threatened by this?

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said the recognitions are an attack on Israel’s sovereignty and endanger its security. He has not offered any explanation as to how.

Some analysts see this as an indication of Israel’s increasing isolation on the world stage.

“What’s happening … means an increasing level of isolation of both Israel and its backers in the United States and the escalation of diplomatic support for Palestinian rights. … Israel is increasingly isolated in the world,” Phyllis Bennis, author and fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, told Al Jazeera.

Katz also said the moves by the European countries reward “terrorism”.

“We’re getting to hear [that] from lots of different people, that the recognition of a Palestinian state rewards Hamas for their actions on October 7, that attack in Israel,” Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan said, reporting from Amman, Jordan, because Israel’s government has banned Al Jazeera from reporting from Israel.

What has Israel done in response?

Israel has reacted angrily to the three countries’ announcement and threatened the Palestinian people living under its control.

It recalled its ambassadors to Ireland, Norway and Spain.

“I am sending a sharp message to Ireland and Norway: Israel will not go over this in silence,” Katz said.

In a provocative move, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam, declaring it belonged “only to the state of Israel”.

“We will not even allow a statement about a Palestinian state,” he said there.

For his part, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said he would stop giving the Palestinian Authority (PA) its tax funds, which Israel collects.

Israel, whose occupation of the West Bank is illegal under international law, is required to transfer taxes to the PA, which governs it.

Smotrich also demanded “punitive measures”, including establishing a new illegal settlement in the West Bank “for every country that unilaterally recognizes a Palestinian state”.

He also pushed for the construction of tens of thousands of housing units in pre-existing settlements.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant announced the reversal of a 2005 disengagement law that had withdrawn Israeli settlers from some West Bank settlements.

a man in a blue tie walks past a building with a golden dome
Ben-Gvir went to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in an angry response to the recognition announcement on May 21, 2023 [Temple Mount Administration/Handout via Reuters]

However, the Gallant order was quickly cancelled by Yehuda Fox, the commander of the Israeli military’s Central Command, which includes the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Did Israel’s allies say anything?

The US has expressed concern over what it sees as Israel’s increased isolation.

The United Kingdom, which has spoken of recognising Palestine in the past, said that now is not the right time to do so. France and Germany have also questioned the timing of the announcement.

All the states objecting to Ireland’s, Spain’s and Norway’s announcement on Wednesday said they are committed to the two-state solution, first envisaged in the UN partition plan of 1947 and affirmed by both Israel and Palestine in the Oslo Accords of the 1990s.

But negotiations between the two sides have been patchy since. The last serious talks in 2013 and 2014 failed to produce an agreement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government have dismissed suggestions of an independent Palestine.

In the meantime, Israeli settlements continue to grow on Palestinian territory, skewing any future agreement, if one is reached.

According to critics, the failure of Western powers to confront Israel on the issue of the two-state solution essentially abets settlements.

Source: Al Jazeera