“Many European countries choose a position different from that of the EU regarding the situation in Palestine.”
The Israeli war on Gaza mixed the cards of European countries between strongly supporting it, opposing it, and vacillating in its position.
But after the war lasted for a long time, the differences increased and imposed repercussions on the political unity of the continent, which had not known similar divisions.
Although the European position did not suffer from differences of opinion regarding the Hamas attack last October 7, as European countries raced to declare Hamas a terrorist movement, expressing their solidarity with “Israel,” when Israeli retaliation began, positions began to change.
Not more than two weeks after the start of the Israeli war, European positions emerged with some degree of difference at several levels, between those who support the war and those who support it according to the US approach (like Italy, Austria, and Germany), and those who stand at a distance from it (like France and Britain), or who completely oppose it and demand that it be stopped (like Spain, Norway, and Ireland).
The Palestinian flag was raised on the municipal building in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, and its Parliament in recent weeks asked the country’s government to prepare to recognize the State of Palestine.
Although, so far, no major country in the European Union has taken this step, the Prime Minister of Spain is leading movements within the EU to put pressure in this direction, calling on “Israel” to stop the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians in Gaza.
Before that, small countries in Europe, such as Iceland, Sweden, Poland, Czechia, Romania, Malta, and Hungary, recognized the State of Palestine.
On his part, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, a former foreign minister in the Sanchez government, admitted that the conflict is a very divisive topic in Europe, and Spain is one of the countries that has clear sympathy with the Arab world.
State of Palestine
Since the start of the Israeli aggression on Gaza on October 7, 2023, the European political scene has witnessed an energetic movement around the Palestinian cause, with the presence of blocs that supported “Israel” to continue its war on the one hand. On the other hand, some countries rejected the bloody aggression carried out by the Israeli Occupation against the women and children of Gaza.
After Pedro Sanchez took over again as Prime Minister of Spain, he spoke in a voice closer to the Palestinians, in a position different from the rest of Europe.
He said that his country might make its own decision about recognizing a Palestinian state if the EU did not do so.
This came in a press conference held by Sanchez on November 24 at the Rafah crossing on the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
In an interview with TVE on November 29, Sanchez considered it in the EU’s interest to recognize the State of Palestine, a step he said was necessary to put an end to the “Israeli–Palestinian conflict” and to stabilize the region.
“It is in Europe’s interest to address this issue out of moral conviction because what we are seeing in Gaza is not acceptable, and also for a geopolitical objective to stabilize a region,” he added.
When he was sworn in for a new term last month, Sanchez said his foreign policy priority would be to work in Europe and in Spain to recognize the State of Palestine.
In the event that an agreement is not reached within the EU, Sanchez, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Council, did not rule out the possibility of Madrid recognizing the State of Palestine unilaterally.
In 2014, the Spanish Parliament, under a conservative government, passed a resolution calling for this recognition with the support of all political parties, but this non-binding vote had no effect.
“In recent years, we have seen how Israel has been taking Palestinian lands, so I think this issue must be addressed,” Sanchez said.
He pointed out that more than 140 countries in the world have recognized the State of Palestine to date and that the countries that do not recognize it are the United States and some EU countries, pointing out that there are 9 countries that recognized the State of Palestine before it became a member of the EU, including Sweden.
The positions taken by the socialist leader sparked tensions with “Israel,” which accused Madrid of supporting terrorism and summoned the Spanish ambassador in protest against Sanchez’s statements at the Rafah crossing.
In response, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares announced on Spanish public television that he had summoned the Israeli ambassador in Madrid to provide clarifications of the unacceptable and false accusations leveled against the Spanish Prime Minister.
Earlier, Sanchez stressed during a meeting with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem (al-Quds) that it is in the interest of “Israel” to work for peace, noting that peace requires the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.
It is noteworthy that Sanchez had affirmed his support for “Israel’s right to defend itself” after the unprecedented Hamas attack last October 7 on Israeli settlements, but he also affirmed his rejection of the blind killing of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
In late October, Sanchez said the EU Council had approved the Spanish proposal to hold a peace conference within six months on the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip.
Sanchez said in a press conference in Brussels at the time that Spain had pressed during a meeting of EU member states for the bloc to demand an immediate ceasefire, but some countries opposed the wording.
Instead, he noted, member states agreed to call for a humanitarian truce and open aid corridors for civilians in Gaza as a means of reaching consensus, adding that in exchange for this settlement, the EU accepted the Madrid Peace Conference proposal, which includes a new effort to revive the two-state solution.
During the summit, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Austria formed a united front to formulate a unified European position that would not restrict “Israel” to anything and to block proposals led by Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Portugal calling for the adoption of the UN position calling for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.
After the outbreak of war last October, Spain opposed the EU’s suspension of aid to the Palestinians. The Spanish caretaker Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel Albares, said that his government opposes proposals to suspend EU aid to the Palestinian territories.
In 1991, Madrid hosted the Middle East Peace Conference. Two years after this conference, the Oslo Accords were signed in Washington, which provided for mutual recognition between “Israel” and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
European Criticism of ‘Israel’
On November 29, the municipality of the Norwegian capital, Oslo, raised the Palestinian flag in front of its headquarters in a sign of solidarity with the people in Gaza.
This initiative coincided with the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, which has been celebrated since 1978 at the request of the UN General Assembly.
Oslo Mayor Anne Lindboe told AFP, “When we know that more than 5,000 children lost their lives, which is the equivalent of more than 275 school classrooms, it is natural for us to commemorate them.”
Although Norway has not yet recognized Palestine as an independent state, the Norwegian Parliament had adopted by a wide majority in mid-November a proposal asking the government in Oslo to prepare to recognize Palestine as an independent state when recognition could have a positive impact on the peace process, without making a final peace accord with a condition.
Not a day goes by without a statement issued by Norway’s Prime Minister, Jonas Gahr Store, or its Foreign Minister, Espen Barth Eide, regarding the Israeli aggression against Gaza.
In the first week of the war, PM Store considered that “Israel” had violated international law in its war on Gaza, repeating the call for a ceasefire.
Turkiye also joins the list for its defense of Hamas and its sharp criticism of what “Israel” is doing in Gaza, as well as Scotland, which refused to raise the Israeli flag in its Parliament and whose prime minister criticized what is happening in Gaza. In addition to Ireland, whose Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, in the first week of the war, described Israeli actions in Gaza as something approaching retaliation.
This position was considered at the time to be one of the strongest criticisms directed at “Israel” by the leader of an EU member state.
Since October 7, Austria’s position has emerged as a strong supporter of “Israel,” as it led the European call to stop all means of support for the Palestinian people.
Italy’s position is among the positions that most express the decadence that some European policies have reached, due to this country’s subjection to the rule of the fascist far-right.
The war also generated a division within European bodies, especially between European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who supports “Israel,” and EU Foreign Policy Representative Josep Borrell, who is trying to be balanced with his calls for calm and a ceasefire and his demands for “Israel” to refrain from committing crimes.
In a move that later drew much flak, von der Leyen reaffirmed the bloc’s unconditional support to “Israel” without making any comment on the civilian casualties in Gaza, when she visited the country on October 13 along with Roberta Metsola, president of the European Parliament.
Displeased with her unauthorized remarks, which undermined the EU’s credibility and geostrategic interests, Borrell and European Council chief Charles Michel came out to reiterate that the bloc remains committed to a political resolution of the “Israeli–Palestine dispute” that will eventually lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.
In turn, political analyst Ibrahim Khatib pointed out in a statement to Al-Estiklal that “given the differences within the EU, it is difficult to imagine that Spain has the ability to redirect the European position on the Palestinian cause, but it could contribute to showing that there is a division in foreign policy within Europe.
“The statements of the heads of the governments of Spain and Belgium, along with the Irish and Norwegian positions, indicate that some in Europe are beginning to wake up to the fact that the Israeli Occupation is the main reason behind the recent hostilities in Gaza,” he said.
Mr. Khatib added, “Regardless of the reasons behind the increased focus on the two-state solution and Palestinian rights, this dialect was almost entirely absent from European political discourse before October 7.
“The truth is that the Palestinians have succeeded, through their resistance and steadfastness, in reaffirming Palestine’s place on the global agenda, especially since the West has become aware that prolonging the Israeli Occupation and apartheid will not bode well for either it or Tel Aviv,” according to the analyst.