Israeli Fears of Palestinian Recognition are Unwarranted
Israeli Fears of Palestinian Recognition are Unwarranted

Israeli Fears of Palestinian Recognition are Unwarranted

According to the Palestine Liberation Organization, 134 countries have recognized Palestinian statehood. Such recognition, the majority of it dating back to the Palestinian declaration of independence in 1988, has hardly affected negotiations to end the conflict and made almost no difference in the lives of Palestinians. Recognition by the remaining holdouts, concentrated in Western Europe and North America, will likewise change little.

Nevertheless, because of the perceived moral and diplomatic weight of Western European nations, the overwrought debate about recognizing the State of Palestine has resurfaced, thanks to recent support for the idea in the British Parliament’s symbolic, nonbinding motion this week, in a pledge this month by the new Swedish prime minister, and in a suggestion on Tuesday by the French foreign minister that his country “will naturally have to assume its responsibilities” if Israeli-Palestinian negotiations continue to fail.

It is the reaction to these developments by Israel and its supporters that has endowed such recognition with what little power it holds. The U.S. government frequently reiterates its opposition to unilateral steps that may prejudice the outcome of negotiations, including Israel’s regular construction of buildings beyond the pre-1967 borders and the P.L.O.’s quest for recognition of Palestinian statehood.

But these two forms of unilateralism are fundamentally dissimilar. One of them can rightly be said to prejudice the outcome of future negotiations, since Israel itself admits that one of the many difficulties in resolving the conflict is the high political and financial cost of relocating a significant portion of its rapidly growing settler population. The other form of so-called unilateralism (in fact it is a form of multilateralism) -- the P.L.O.’s campaign for international recognition of Palestinian statehood -- cannot possibly prejudice the outcome of future negotiations, since it is not an issue to be negotiated. Both parties to the conflict, including Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, have already agreed that conflict-ending negotiations are to result in the creation of a Palestinian state.

The United States and other Western nations claim to be in favor of Palestinian independence. But they withhold formal recognition of Palestinian statehood on the grounds that a Palestinian state should be created only through bilateral negotiations that end the conflict.

This argument hands a veto to Israel not just over Palestinian statehood -- a veto that Israel, as the occupying power, undoubtedly holds -- but also over the foreign policies (i.e., the mere act of granting diplomatic recognition) of nations like the United States that wish, with steadily dwindling plausibility, to portray themselves as friends of the Palestinians.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen is welcomed by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank June 14, 2022. Mohamad Torokman / REUTERS

Realigning European Policy toward Palestine with Ground Realities

Events in 2021 – particularly the Gaza war – put in sharp relief how much Europe’s policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs a refresh. The European Union and its member states should use the levers they have to push for their stated goal of a peaceful resolution. 

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