analysisIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Experts split on significance of Palestinian state recognitions

While several European countries' recent recognition of a Palestinian state is concerning, the practical results on the ground may amount to less than some expect, experts tell JNS.

Riyad Mansour (left), permanent observer of the "State of Palestine" to the U.N, greets Secretary-General António Guterres ahead of a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, April 18, 2024. Credit: Manuel Elías/U.N. Photo.
Riyad Mansour (left), permanent observer of the "State of Palestine" to the U.N, greets Secretary-General António Guterres ahead of a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, April 18, 2024. Credit: Manuel Elías/U.N. Photo.
Troy Osher Fritzhand
Troy Osher Fritzhand
Troy Osher Fritzhand is the Jerusalem correspondent at JNS, covering the capital city, the Prime Minister's Office and the Knesset. He was previously the politics and Knesset reporter at The Jerusalem Post and has written for the Algemeiner Journal and The Media Line. Also an active member of the city's tech scene, he resides in Jerusalem with his wife.

On the heels of last month’s recognition of a Palestinian state by Spain, Ireland and Norway, followed on Tuesday by Slovenia, there has been an outcry within Israel and abroad about what the implications may be on the ground.

According to Yonatan Freeman, an international relations expert at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, it’s much ado about not much.

“These sort of announcements aren’t really drastically changing what was already known,” he said, noting that even before the current war, 137 of the 193 U.N. member states had recognized “Palestine,” which has also held non-member observer status in the U.N. General Assembly since 2012.

According to Freeman, the recent moves have more to do with European domestic politics. He also believes the phenomenon is not likely to spread to bigger allies such as the United States and France.

Nearly eight months into the war sparked by Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre, pressure to act is building in many European capitals, with many countries experiencing mass protests. Some of the pressure is also coming from the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, he added.

“In some of these countries, their coalitions may be at risk,” said Freeman.

Shlomo Brom, a senior researcher emeritus at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and supporter of a two-state solution, disagrees, arguing that while practically speaking a functioning Palestinian state will not appear tomorrow, the recognitions still have an immediate impact.

“It puts pressure on the government,” he said. “They see the majority of the world recognizes a state, even our closest friends, and it makes us alone on this,” he added.

At the same time, it encourages and even strengthens the Palestinian Authority, he said.

Speaking alongside Norway’s foreign minister last month during a handover of diplomatic papers, P.A. Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa said, “Recognition means a lot to us. It is the most important thing that anybody can do for the Palestinian people. It is a great deal for us.”

Recognition of a Palestinian state now also encourages Hamas, as noted by Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who called the move by Ireland, Spain and Norway “a gold medal to Hamas terrorists who kidnapped our daughters and burned infants.”

Switzerland’s House of Representatives on Tuesday rejected a motion to recognize Palestinian statehood with SWI swissinfo.ch reporting that the Swiss Federal Council believes “the time is not right” for such a move.

French President Emmanuel Macron, too, said in late May that while he is open to recognizing a state, the timing is not right.

“There are no taboos for France, and I am totally ready to recognize a Palestinian state. … I think this recognition must be at a useful moment,” he said in Germany. “I will not do an emotional recognition.”

Denmark and Australia, too, both recently voted against recognition.

Brom does not think the countries recognizing “Palestine” are doing so out of anti-Jewish or anti-Israel sentiment but out of a sincere belief that a Palestinian state is the best solution. Even so, he would rather that recognition came about in a different way.

“I would prefer [recognition] came about through an agreement instead of unilateral recognition,” he said, adding, “but that won’t happen with the [current Israeli] government.”

There are also the thorny questions of who is to govern “Palestine” and what its borders are.

During his speech announcing recognition, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez described “Palestine” as composed of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, connected via a corridor, with eastern Jerusalem as its capital and unified under the “legitimate government” of the P.A.

However, according to polls of public opinion in both Gaza and Judea and Samaria, Palestinians do not share that assessment of the P.A.

Only some 8% of respondents favor a P.A.-controlled government, according to the Arab World for Research and Development (AWRAD) research firm.

A poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that only 14% of Palestinians approve of P.A. head Mahmoud Abbas and only 18% want to see the P.A. in control of Gaza after the war. Sixty-three percent of respondents preferred Hamas.

This is an inconvenient fact for the Spanish premier, who declared in his speech that his country’s recognition of “Palestine” “reflects our absolute rejection of Hamas, a terrorist organization [that] is against the two-state solution.”

According to customary international law, a state is a body with a defined territory, population and government—most of which do not apply in the case of “Palestine.”

Denmark cited this in its rejection of recognition.

“We cannot recognize an independent Palestinian state for the sole reason that the preconditions are not really there,” Danish Foreign Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen noted when the legislation was first debated in parliament in April.

On the whole, while the moves arguably do have a negative impact, which Israel is taking seriously, the degree to which they’re actually advancing Palestinian statehood on the ground is questionable.

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