Five Reasons to Recognise a Palestinian State

It is crucial that the European Parliament supports recognition of the State of Palestine at Thursday's vote for five key reasons.

Next week, the European Parliament (EP) will vote on a resolution to support recognition of the State of Palestine. In doing so, the EP will follow the example set by parliaments in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain and France, as well as by Sweden, where the newly elected government became the first EU state (and 135th in the world) to recognise the State of Palestine. Similar votes are also expected in the Italian and Danish parliaments. 

Recognition is more than just a symbolic move.

The vote comes at an important moment, some seven months after the collapse of U.S. Secretary Kerry’s peace efforts. Instead of developing further political horizons for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Gaza experienced the most deadly round of violence to date, claiming the lives of over 2000 Palestinians; in fact, the wave of violence was so serious that many Israelis are harkening back to memories of the Second Intifada, though recent events do not even come close to the death toll of those years. Actions by the Israeli government in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as the growing strength of the settler movement, have meanwhile further undermined prospects for reaching a two-state solution.

Recognition is more than just a symbolic move as it offers a number of practical benefits that can help arrest the deteriorating security conditions and ultimately realise the goal of a Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security.

Here are five reasons why the European Parliament should vote in favour of a Palestinian state:

1.   Consistency

Recognition of a Palestinian state is consistent with the EU’s long-standing support for achieving a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and builds on both its landmark 1980 Venice Declaration and subsequent 1999 Berlin statement, which announced the EU’s “readiness to consider the recognition of a Palestinian State”.

Recognition of a Palestinian state is consistent with the EU’s long-standing supportfor achieving a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Next week will also be the two-year anniversary of Palestine’s recognition by the UN General Assembly, during which over half of EU member states voted positively.

As Daniel Levy and Nick Witney argued when making the case for Europe to vote yes on Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly in 2012, given the extent of the EU’s political support for the two-state solution, “it would seem perverse, when that [Palestinian] leadership turns to the international community to reaffirm its right to statehood, for Europe not to support them.”

2.   Value for Money

Recognition is the natural outcome of significant EU financial investment in the two-state solution, which has included almost €2.5 billion from EU member states in support of Palestinian state building efforts since 2007.

Recognition is the natural outcome of significant EU financial investment in the two-state solution.

This is in addition to an annual contribution of over €200 million towards UNRWA. EU aid has made a real difference, with the World Bank noting Palestinians are well positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future, a view echoed by the IMF.

This however will all come to nothing in the absence of political progress. As the World Bank, IMF and UNCATD have all warned, continued Israeli occupation coupled with a negative political and security situation risks reversing these developments. And clearly it is the PA that has the most to lose from the latest eruption of violence ,with over half of Palestinians polled in October 2014 believing it has become a burden.

3.   If not Europe, then who?

With zero prospects for resuming negotiations anytime soon and facing a myriad of other pressing world issues to deal with, the US has stepped back, having seemingly resigned itself to managing the conflict as best as it can in order to avoid a serious conflagration. Conflict management, however, should not be confused with peace-making. Nor should meaningless negotiations be pursued merely due to a lack of alternative vision, not least because their collapse only leads to further destabilisation of the situation. Because of the recent failure of talks led by John Kerry, and in light of longstanding domestic dynamics that hinder the use of US leverage with Israel, it is unlikely that US-led negotiations will either happen soon or be a game-changer. It is therefore time for Europeans to show that there is an alternative political path to “armed resistance” in order to promote Palestinian rights.

It is time for Europeans to show that there is an alternative political path to “armed resistance” in order to promote Palestinian rights.

The EU cannot replace US leadership in the peace process. And recognition by itself cannot end the occupation; only Israel can do this. But as Italy’s Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni argued last week in a hearing at the Italian parliament, European recognition of Palestinian statehood could represent an important step towards unlocking negotiations. By virtue of its deep economic, trade and cultural relations with Israel, Europe can begin to redress the decades old asymmetry between Israel and the Palestinians. As we have argued previously, recognition brings with it a responsibility on the part of the recognising party to match words with deeds—in particular, an obligation to bring national and EU policies in line with principles and norms that reject the occupation.

4.   Recognition is anti-occupation, not anti-Israel

Recognising a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders reaffirms the EU’s support for the two-state solution and the legitimacy of Israel. Recognition also reaffirms the EU’s longstanding position on the illegality of Israel’s occupation, which views Israel’s settlement enterprise as detrimental to peace and security. This view is shared by many Israelis, including a number of retired ministers and security officials who wrote that “[European] recognition of the state of Palestine will advance prospects for peace and will encourage Israelis and Palestinians alike to bring an end to their conflict. […] The prospects for Israel's security and existence depend on the existence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.”

5.   A Political Alternative to Violence

It is precisely because of the rising wave of violence that Europeans must take a political initiative.

It is precisely because of the rising wave of violence that Europeans must take a political initiative.  A vote in favour of Palestinian national aspirations would therefore be an endorsement for President Abbas’s commitment to diplomacy at a time when 44 percent of Palestinians in the OPTs believe that armed confrontation is the most effective means of building a Palestinian state. Far from encouraging further violence, “a strong endorsement of Palestinian aspirations will more likely have a restraining influence, through having demonstrated to the Palestinian public that, even if there is no progress with Israel, at least all is not lost in the world and that their leadership can deliver a diplomatic success”, as Daniel Levy and Nick Witney have argued previously. 

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.

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Senior Policy Fellow
ECFR Alumni · Senior Policy Fellow

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