On October 30, Sweden officially recognized the state of Palestine, becoming the first European country to do so and joining the 134 countries, mainly from the developing world that already recognized Palestine since its proclamation in Algiers in 1988. More than a symbolic step towards the Palestinian people, the Swedish government led the way for other European countries. Both the British, Spanish and French parliaments voted for resolutions urging their respective governments to recognize Palestine, and the Belgian, Danish and Irish assemblies are planning similar elections. But it also rekindled the debate about the legitimacy of a Palestinian state and its right to exist.
The current discussions remind us that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is way thornier than a simple plot that dramatizes the “Good” on stage left and the “Bad” on the other side, reflecting the complications of a Shakespearian drama.
The Swedish realistic foreign policy, based on the rules of international laws according to which a state implies a territory, a people and a government, pushed European parliaments in a movement of recognition of Palestine. Their main argument, reused on the Twitter account of the Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström, is that “two unequal partners would facilitate the negotiations”. In response to the Swedish vote, the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, confessed that “we would need to recognize Palestine one day”, adding that “pressures from the international community will help the two sides reaching the indispensable final consensus and take the final step that will lead to peace”.
But this legal process towards a Palestinian state is not the prerogative of the European community. It is highly supported by the numerous peace partisans active in both Israel and Palestine, though “invisible” since they are not granted any political representation or power. For instance, the Belgian deputes have received a letter signed by a group of 800 Israeli intellectuals, including former diplomats Amos Oz and David Grossman, and the Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, urging the parliamentarians to recognize the state of Palestine considering it useful in the peace talks, and asking for a mutual recognition of Palestine and Israel according to the 1967 borders.
If we can talk about a current European legal movement – into which Germany decided to not take any part – the openness of such debate does not reach the other side of the Atlantic. Mahmoud Abbas received the approval of the Arab League to present a resolution for a Palestinian state at the United Nations (UN), where it faced the American veto for – literally – the 40th time, a rigid position that contradicts Obama’s speech at the American University of Cairo in 2009, in which he asked for the respect of the “legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state on their own”.
Though this legal movement does not change anything in the civilians’ everyday life, it can create true political perspectives. As a symbolic step, it also highlights the decline of the intimidation power of the Likud, the ruling conservative party in Israel, on both the civil population and the international stage. However, they have to share the power and cooperate with a number of minor parties since the Israeli political system, based on a proportional parliamentary representation with a threshold of 2%, allows small and religious parties, often blind to the Palestinian position, to reach the Knesset.
Before what consisted of “a big mistake” according to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Swedish Ambassador to Israel was summoned by the Israeli Foreign Minister to explain the vote of its Parliament, stressing the significance of the event. Indeed, for many of Israel’s supporters, the establishment of a Palestinian state would be a premature and unilateral step towards a resolution of the conflict and would contradict the Oslo Accords, framing the peace talks since 1993 and pleading for a “comprehensive peace settlement”.
But the flag of security is up, and according to Naftali Bennet, Israeli Minister of Economy, Israel “cannot withdraw from more territory and cannot allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state”. He is here referring to the recent Gaza war, the confrontation with the Lebanese Hezbollah in 2006 and the new threat of the so-called Islamic State. To Israel, security rhymes with occupation: “I occupy so I am”. Palestine and Israel are seen as two antagonistic entities that cannot live one next to the other, with the expansion of the first threatening the well-being of the later.
Whereas the Palestinian government works for the international recognition of a state, the Knesset recently voted a law enforcing the Jewishness of the state of Israel, adding to the ongoing physical Judaization of Jerusalem. According to this bill, Israel’s national symbols and legal system should be inspired by the principles of Judaism, what would marginalize the Arab minorities and contradict the democratic aspirations of the state of Israel, stressing its ethno-religious specificities.
Perhaps what is missing for a concrete resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the key value of accountability, Navi Pillay suggests. The former judge of the International Criminal Court (ICC) argues that the admission of Palestine to the ICC would “break the cycle of conflict”, allowing investigation and legal consequences for war crimes, such as occupation. It could also give an end to the debate provoked by the existential Palestinian question of “to be or not to be”.