Israel recalls envoys as Spain, Ireland and Norway commit to recognise Palestinian state

Israel recalled its ambassadors to Spain, Ireland and Norway on Wednesday to deliver a “severe reprimand” to the three countries after they committed to recognise Palestinian statehood next week.

Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz branded the show of support for the Palestinians a “folly”, adding: “History will remember that Spain, Norway and Ireland decided to award a gold medal to the murderers and rapists of Hamas.”

The move will add to the number of the EU’s 27 members that recognise Palestinian statehood, but does not include heavyweights from the bloc such as France. In a blow to their hopes for a broader diplomatic push, other countries that Madrid and Dublin had courted in recent weeks, including Belgium, Malta and Slovenia, did not immediately follow suit.

Ireland’s Taoiseach Simon Harris said he was “confident further countries will join us”. The trio said their move would take effect on May 28.

The move comes amid a split within the EU over a move by the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court to seek arrest warrants for the leaders of Israel and Hamas, as countries within the bloc struggle to unite on a response to the war in Gaza. It also follows a UN General Assembly vote this month backing a Palestinian application to become a full member state.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who launched an offensive in Gaza that has killed more than 35,000 people following Hamas’s October 7 attacks in Israel, had “no peace project for Palestine”.

Sánchez said: “Fighting the terrorist group Hamas is legitimate and necessary . . . But Netanyahu is creating so much pain and so much destruction and so much rancour in Gaza and the rest of Palestine that the two-state solution is in danger.”

Norway, which brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in the early 1990s, said recognition of a Palestinian state was “the only alternative that offers a political solution for Israelis and Palestinians alike: two states, living side by side, in peace and security”.

Ireland referred to its own pitch for international recognition as it struggled for independence just over a century ago. “From our own history, we know what it means,” Harris said.

Israel said on Tuesday that Ireland’s recognition for a Palestinian state would “lead to more terrorism, instability in the region and jeopardise any prospects for peace” and urged: “Don’t be a pawn in the hands of Hamas.”

The Palestinian Authority welcomed the three countries’ move, saying they had “demonstrated their unwavering commitment to the two-state solution and to delivering the long-overdue justice to the Palestinian people”. It called on other countries to follow suit.

Most UN member states already recognise Palestinian statehood and Palestine is also recognised by Sweden, which acted alone in 2014, and several central and eastern European members that had recognised it before joining the EU.

France has yet to take the step and has been seeking to rally other countries, including the UK, to back a wider bid.

France’s foreign minister, Stéphane Séjourné, said: “Our position is clear: the recognition of Palestine is not a taboo for France. This decision must be useful and permit a decisive step forward on the political level.”

He added: “[It] should be a diplomatic tool to help achieve the two-state solution [of Israel and Palestine] living side by side in peace and security. France does not consider that the conditions were present to date for this decision to have a real impact in this process.”

British foreign secretary Lord David Cameron said in January that the UK could recognise Palestinian statehood as part of “irreversible steps” towards a two-state solution to the protracted Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Arab and Palestinian officials have said recognition of a Palestinian state should be a crucial step to underpin moves towards a longer-term resolution of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to bolster a future administration for the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

They want the US and other major western powers to support Palestine’s full membership of the UN through the Security Council. But the US this month opposed a resolution that would have paved the way for full Palestinian membership of the UN.

The three countries’ move prompted a sharp reaction from rightwing figures within Netanyahu’s government. The far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, on Wednesday wrote to the prime minister demanding “punitive steps” against the Palestinian Authority in response to the European decisions and other Palestinian moves on the international stage, including seeking action against the Jewish state by the ICC.

Smotrich called for measures including a major expansion of Jewish settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and the freezing of Israeli tax transfers to the PA.

The PA, established in 1994, exercises limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank but lost control of the Gaza Strip to Hamas nearly two decades ago. Both territories are viewed by the international community as the basis for a Palestinian state.

Later on Wednesday, the extreme-right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem, and said the site — known to Jews as the Temple Mount — “belongs only to the state of Israel”.

He spoke out against a Palestinian state at the contested site, which is regarded as the holiest in Judaism and the third-holiest in Islam.

Also on Wednesday, Israel’s defence minister Yoav Gallant said Israel would expand a law to allow Israelis to return to settlements in the north of the occupied West Bank — regarded as illegal by most of the international community — from which they had been banned since 2005. 

John O’Brennan, professor of European integration at Maynooth University in Ireland, said the move by the three countries was more than a gesture. “If it was merely symbolic, the Israelis would not have recalled their ambassadors.”

Additional reporting by James Shotter in Jerusalem

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