Recognition of Palestinian statehood is not the panacea it’s made out to be

A symbolic political act cannot put an end to Israeli crimes or grant Palestinians sovereignty.

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Ireland's Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Simon Harris
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Ireland's Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Simon Harris speak as they meet to discuss recognising the Palestinian state, in Dublin, Ireland, April 12, 2024. [Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters]

As the genocide in Gaza rages on, various European countries, including Spain and Ireland, have indicated that they are moving towards recognising the State of Palestine.

The new Irish prime minister, Simon Harris, argued that a group of like-minded countries officially recognising a Palestinian state would “lend weight to the decision and … send the strongest message”.

Meanwhile, Spanish officials argued that this could create momentum for others to do the same. Currently, most countries in the Global South, but only very few in the West, recognise the State of Palestine. As it stands, recognition of the State of Palestine is a political and symbolic move – it signals the recognition of the Palestinian right to sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza. In reality, no such sovereignty exists – rather as an occupying force, the Israeli regime maintains de facto control over both territories and effectively controls everything that goes in and out, including people.

Recently, some moves have also been made towards granting Palestine full membership to the United Nations, and thus recognising its statehood at the UN level. In mid-April, a resolution was put forward at the UN Security Council that would have paved the way for full Palestinian membership. Twelve members of the UNSC voted in favour but, unsurprisingly, the United States blocked the initiative using its veto power. Rather predictably, the United Kingdom and Switzerland abstained. Prior to the vote, the Biden administration offered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a meeting at the White House in return for suspending the bid. Abbas declined, probably still stinging from last year when he reportedly accepted a similar offer and never received the invitation to the White House. Indeed, it has been the case many times before that the Palestinian Authority suspended action at the UN at the bequest of the Americans in return for a measly payoff, or no payoff at all.

Some Palestinians and international human rights organisations argue that recognition is a crucial step towards securing Palestinian fundamental rights and one that offers more legal avenues to hold the Israeli regime accountable. Yet it is difficult to envision how recognition of a state that does not exist would change the reality on the ground for Palestinians facing systematic erasure.

In fact, it is pertinent to ask whether some states are pushing for this symbolic political move amid an ongoing genocide to avoid taking much more tangible actions, such as arms/trade embargoes and sanctions on the Israeli regime, to support Palestinians and reaffirm their right to sovereignty.

For example, Spain – one of the leading voices calling for recognition – in November exported $1m worth of ammunition to the Israeli regime, which by that time had already killed thousands in Gaza. Meanwhile, Ireland’s exports of restricted “dual-use” goods that have potential military purposes grew nearly sevenfold in 2023, from 11 million euros ($11.8m) to more than 70 million euros ($75m). Despite growing calls for an end to all trade relations between Ireland and the Israeli regime, these exports continue to this day. It thus begs the question; What does recognition of a people’s statehood mean when you remain complicit in funding, arming and equipping the regime that is destroying the very people of that state?

But for most diplomats and foreign officials, the crux of the recognition argument is that it will revive the “two-state solution” amid what is being framed as a political impasse. A solution which, premised on the partition of the land of historic Palestine, does not recognise Palestinian fundamental rights in their entirety and effectively accepts Israeli apartheid. Indeed the two-state solution demands that Palestinians world over forgo their rights to their lands and properties in historic Palestine and accept a truncated state in the 1967 occupied lands instead. Further, it demands that Palestinians accept Zionism as a legitimate ideology rather than one of settler-colonial domination.

Today, in addition to the genocide in Gaza, which has seen Israeli forces kill more than 34,000 Palestinians and destroy 70 percent of the enclave’s infrastructure, the West Bank is facing unprecedented land theft, settlement building, destruction of homes and violence at the hands of both soldiers and settlers. This reality is a rather predictable outcome of decades of pushing a flawed solution framework which favours colonial partition of justice and freedom.

That’s why what Palestinians need from the international community at this moment is not the symbolic recognition of a non-existing state, but tangible action, including trade embargoes on and sanctions against the Israeli regime to hold it accountable for its ongoing crimes across colonised Palestine.

As the genocide rages on, Gaza continues to teach the world many things, and among them is that the Palestinian people cannot be “siphoned off into Bantustans” and forgotten about. Indeed, partition will never be a sustainable or long-term solution and the international community needs to come to terms with this.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.