Author: Ahmed Eissa, UMBC
A head of state’s first public action or executive order after assuming office is always symbolic, and often indicative of their ideological base. It serves as a statement.
In the case of current United States President Barack Obama, his first executive order, two days after his inauguration ceremony, ordered the swift closure of all detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay and the immediate review of all detainees. Against the backdrop of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and in the face of staunch Republican resistance in Congress, the zealous new president sought to restore America’s international reputation and demonstrate his commitment to the rule of law. Although the fact that Guantanamo Bay remains open, nearly six years later, is another conversation.
The Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven, on the other hand, focused on matters unrelated to Sweden. Standing with his new government after being sworn-in to office on October 3, Prime Minister Lofven announced that his government would soon recognize a Palestinian state. Before the month was over, the Swedish government did just that on October 30, becoming the first European Union member to officially recognize a Palestinian state.
“The conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be solved with a two-state solution, negotiated in accordance with international law,” said Lofven during his inaugural address to parliament. “A two-state solution requires mutual recognition and a will to peaceful co-existence. Sweden will therefore recognize the state of Palestine.”
Prime Minister Lofven’s symbolic expression of solidarity with the Palestinian people and expressed commitment to peace prompted a snowball of similar diplomatic efforts in Europe.
On October 10, British lawmakers voted in favor of recognizing Palestine as a state. In a 274 to 12 vote, the motion expressed, “That this House believes that the Government should recognize the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution.” And although the non-binding motion does not change the United Kingdom’s official stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the motion allows the UK to recognize Palestine as a state at any time, should they see fit. Another symbolic win.
Across the Irish Sea on October 24, the upper house of Ireland’s parliament, Seanad Eireann, called “on the government to formally recognize the state of Palestine and do everything it can at the international level to help secure a viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinain conflict” with a 31-29 vote on the motion. Though the majority was slight, the motion was yet another symbolic gain for the recognition of a Palestinian state.
Spain and France, following close on the heels of these Western European states, are both expected to hold parliamentary votes on similar motions in the coming weeks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with numerous Israeli ambassadors, government ministers, and spokespeople, have routinely dismissed the motions from abroad as counter-productive to the peace process and claim that the votes do nothing “but give excuses to those on the Palestinian side who hope to achieve their goals without talking directly to Israel.”
“This kind of step discourages Palestinians from coming back to the negotiating table in the first place, or getting them to compromise,” said Paul Hirschon, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry.
For years it has been Israel’s stance (and the United States’) that a unilateral push from the Palestinians for international recognition hinders the opportunity to reach a lasting peace and viable solution to the conflict. However, it appears that much of the world would disagree. Before Sweden’s initial ripple in the Western European-pond, so to speak, a total of 134 countries, all United Nations members, officially recognized Palestine as a state.
Palestinian statelessness has been placed back on the international radar as the culmination of a series of unfortunate events: the collapse of peace talks in April following the formation of the Palestinian Unity Government; Operation Protective Edge, the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas which left more than 2,100 Palestinians and 71 Israelis dead; and the continuation of the building of illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
On October 27, following the British and Irish motions for recognition, and three days before Sweden was set to hold their own vote, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced additional settlement construction – 1,000 new homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Har Homa and Ramat Shlomo.
The Israeli government criticizes unilateral Palestinian action, but continues their own unilateral settlement construction on lands annexed from the 1967 war, which much of the world considers illegal. Even the United States, arguably Israel’s strongest ally, noted that continued construction would “poison the atmosphere” by distancing Israel from other nations and “calls into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement.”
Israel’s increasing isolation is more clear than ever – the international community is increasingly showing that it does not support the status quo.
If change does not come from within, should it come from without?