Slovenia’s ‘moral duty’: What’s behind its push to recognise Palestine?

As Israel’s war rages in Gaza, Slovenia is joining a clutch of European nations that hope to pave a pathway to peace.

Slovenia is set to recognise Palestinian statehood in June, following in the footsteps of Ireland, Norway, and Spain.

But Israel’s war on Gaza continues to divide European Union members. On one end of the spectrum, countries such as Germany, Hungary, and the Netherlands staunchly support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. On the other, those like Slovenia, which have strongly criticised Israel’s military conduct, are calling on the international community to hold Israeli leaders accountable.

While condemning both Hamas and Israel, Ljubljana has consistently advocated for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, the removal of restrictions on humanitarian access, and bold steps toward a two-state solution.

In October 2023, Slovenia joined Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Spain in voting for an immediate ceasefire at the UN General Assembly.

When Israeli officials accused the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) of permitting Hamas to infiltrate the body, which resulted in the United States and other Western governments cutting off support to the agency, Slovenia not only continued funding it, but also increased contributions.

Last month, in its capacity as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Slovenia voted in favour of a draft resolution to grant the State of Palestine full-fledged UN membership.

And earlier this month, Slovenia voted for a resolution calling for Palestine’s full UN membership, which the UN General Assembly passed overwhelmingly.

Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon has framed the recognition of Palestine’s statehood as a “moral duty”.

“Slovenia is neither pro-Israel nor pro-Palestinian, we understand and sympathise with people on both sides,” Eva Tomic, climate policy and human rights adviser to the president of Slovenia, told Al Jazeera.

“People on both sides deserve to live side-by-side in peace and security and the role of the international community is to help them achieve that.”

She explained that as a relatively small state, Slovenia is a “firm believer” in the merits of the multilateral cooperation.

“We are not burdened with any historical colonial past, we listen to other parts of the world.

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the oldest and most difficult, but for the first time in many decades, the world public opinion is shifting. Students in Slovenia are protesting for justice and peace there, too,” she added.

Bostjan Videmsek, an award-winning foreign correspondent and war reporter for DELO, a Slovenian daily newspaper, does not believe that Slovenia is necessarily a leading advocate for the Palestinians within the EU.

“It is just the fact that a big part of the EU, namely Germany, is standing on the wrong side of history [again], and there is a lack of political courage in some other countries, including the European Commission,” he told Al Jazeera. “What Slovenia is supporting are the basics of the basics. No more, no less.”

Having long been inclined to support the rights of others to self-determination, including the Palestinians, Slovenia’s foreign policy is centred on respecting international law and multilateral coordination.

In practice, this means protecting small states from more powerful actors and countries.

“Without international law in international relations, there would be a lawless ‘jungle’ in which larger states would be free to impose their will on smaller states,” said Primoz Sterbenc, an assistant professor at the University of Primorska in Koper, Slovenia, told Al Jazeera. “As Israel has ever since 1967 continuously and flagrantly breached international law … in the [occupied Palestinian territories], thereby destroying the possibility of establishment of a sovereign and viable Palestinian state, Slovenia has been somehow obliged to be critical of Israel.”

Leaders of the nations recognising Palestinian statehood for the first time argue it’s an essential step towards a two-state solution.

“Any future negotiations on all the remaining issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict need to be resolved between the two states and not between the occupying force and the occupied as is the case now,” said Tomic.

Slovenia’s embassy in the US, in a statement to Al Jazeera, said, “Our plan makes it clear that the Palestinians have the right to self-determination, statehood and survival … The rigorous respect for international law can put an end to the unacceptable and untenable situation in the Middle East”.

‘It’s easy for Slovenians to feel empathy’

Slovenia’s history is relevant to Ljubljana’s foreign policy regarding Palestine; its stance on statehood could be partly explained within the context of Josip Broz Tito’s role as a leader in the Non-Aligned Movement and Yugoslavia’s position towards the conflict.

The collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s amid the 10-day war in 1991 has informed some Slovenians’ perspectives on Palestine.

“Most Slovenians can still remember the 1991 war of independence against a much bigger and much stronger Yugoslav army,” said Novica Mihajlovic, a journalist and editor at DELO. “It’s easy for Slovenians to feel empathy towards any side in any international conflict that is being attacked by a stronger and bigger opponent.”

Prior to independence in 1991, Slovenia was under the rule of other states and part of larger federative states.

Slovenia’s decision to gain statehood stemmed from its “own civic quest for democracy and human rights”, said Tomic. “The realisation of our own right to self-determination determines our stance not to deny this right to others. This helps explain Slovenia’s stance in the UN and in the EU on the human rights situation in Palestine.”


Slovenia’s move has been welcomed by several nations of the Global South – a term meaning Latin America, Africa and much of Asia.

“I sincerely hope this terrible war in Gaza will serve to deepen our sense of humanity regardless of in which part of the world we live in,” said Tomic. “All people, regardless of our ethnicity, race, or descent, deserve the same human rights and I believe this is the gist of our shared understanding with both the Arab world and the Global South: Human rights cannot be a privilege of the well-off West or North only.”

As more countries recognise Palestinian statehood, however, many observers are questioning whether the push will have an effect.

Sterbenc warned that recognition could be “counter-productive”, saying it could create a “false impression” of justice without changing the reality on the ground.

The Slovenian academic said recognising Palestine could risk creating conditions whereby EU members evade their obligations under international law. He said that the bloc must go further and begin imposing economic sanctions on Israel at the EU level.

“The EU should reconsider its traditional practice of funding the Palestinian Authority … since this practice has only taken away the financial burden from Israel which this state should carry, as the occupying power,” Sterbenc told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera