European Parliament Lends Support for Palestinian Statehood (12/17)     Print Email

brianbeary-august2011By Brian Beary, Washington Correspondent for Europolitics Magazine

In a non-binding but important symbolic move, the European Parliament on December 17 voted to support recognizing Palestine as an independent state that goes “hand-in-hand with the development of peace talks.” The resolution was approved by a large majority, with 498 MEPs in favour, 88 against and 111 abstaining. It was a compromise text, one that allowed the five political groups who jointly crafted it to each put their own spin on the outcome. Thus, the center-right European People’s Party, Parliament’s largest group, which has qualms about moving hastily to bestow statehood, said the vote “clearly rejected the unconditional recognition separate from the peace negotiations.” By contrast, keen to ride the current pro-recognition wave, the center-left Socialists and Democrats group said it “reflects the initiative for Palestinian recognition that is sweeping parliaments across Europe.” The centrist Liberals and Democrats group described the vote as “a step forward towards the recognition of Palestine.”

The vote comes hot on the heels of similar non-binding resolutions that legislatures in France, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom have passed in recent weeks as moves are afoot in other national parliaments, notably Belgium, Denmark and Portugal, to follow suit. None of these parliamentary votes are binding as it is generally only states’ executive branches of government that have the legal authority to recognize another country. However, last summer’s incursion by the Israeli military into Gaza, coupled with the ongoing failure of the peace talks to progress, is generating pressure on governments to recognize.

In a bold move, the newly-installed government of Sweden announced on October 30 that it was unilaterally recognizing Palestine. “There is a territory, a people and a government,” said Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallstrom, defending the decision. The Israeli government strongly protested the move, recalling its Ambassador in Stockholm.

Palestinian leaders first proclaimed the independence of Palestine in 1988. That triggered a flurry of recognitions around the world - including by pro-Soviet Warsaw Pact nations who have since become EU member states, such as Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Romania. Cyprus and Malta recognized independence then too but they were not EU members until 2004. Up until Sweden’s action, no country had ever recognized Palestinian statehood while an EU member state. If recognition is the exception to the rule in Europe, the picture is very different in other regions of the world. Of the 193 United Nations member states, 135 recognize Palestine’s statehood, including almost all countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The holdouts are Australia, Canada, the United States and the EU bloc – now, minus Sweden. They support a two-state solution comprising an Israeli and Palestinian state.

They recognize Israel already but they have sympathy for the Israeli government’s argument that to recognize Palestine now would make a lasting peace accord harder to achieve by making the Palestinians less inclined to compromise. But as months turn into years with no settlement in sight, the tide in Europe is turning in favour of recognizing Palestinian statehood sooner rather than later.