Spanish lawmakers were set to vote on Tuesday in favour of their government recognising Palestine as a state, in a symbolic move intended to promote peace between the Palestinians and Israel but which has angered the Jewish state.
The debate in Madrid comes on a day when two Palestinians armed with a meat cleaver and a gun burst into a Jerusalem synagogue and killed four Jews at prayer before being shot dead.
The non-binding motion, brought forward by the opposition Socialists, but expected to be backed by the ruling People’s Party (PP) and other groups in the lower house of parliament, echoes similar votes in Britain and Ireland last month.
France is also eyeing such a non-binding resolution, soon after Sweden’s centre-left government took the lead by officially recognising the state of Palestine within days of taking office last month.
The moves reflect mounting frustration in the European Union at Israel’s expanding settlement programme on land the Palestinians want for a state following the collapse of US-sponsored peace talks.
The EU’s new foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the bloc’s 28 foreign ministers discussed at a meeting in Brussels on Monday how they could start “a positive process with the Israelis and Palestinians to relaunch a peace process”.
The Spanish motion, prepared by former Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez, “urges” the government to recognise Palestine as a state and to promote such recognition within the EU, according to a draft obtained by Reuters.
Palestinian solidarity march. Madrid, 2009. [Sebastián Losada/Flickr]
The PP group would like to tone this down to “encourages” in negotiations on the text ahead of the vote, due around 1800 GMT.
Time running out
While the initiative does not significantly shift Spain’s Middle East policy, Madrid is hoping to inject momentum in the search for a two-state Israeli-Palestinian solution.
“We have the feeling that time is running out,” Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told reporters in Brussels. “Either we do something fairly quickly, or the two-state solution will be physically impossible.”
The Israeli government dismissed the move however, saying it came at the worst possible moment on the day of the deadliest incident in Jerusalem for six years.
“Nothing can be gained from unilateral moves such as the one being made by the Spanish parliament today, and it distances us from negotiations with the Palestinians,” said Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon.
“We call on Spain not to make unilateral moves, particularly on a shocking day like today.”
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy condemned the attack.
“The Spanish government and all the Spanish people are deeply moved and united with Israel and its citizens in this moment of intense pain and indignation,” he said in a telegram sent to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The state of Israel was created in 1948, replacing the British Mandate for Palestine after a conflict that resulted in the flight of at least 750,000 Palestinians. 19 years later, the refugee crisis was exacerbated by the invasion and occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the Six-Day War of 1967. Israel then annexed East Jerusalem and began building colonies in the West Bank, which is now home to 500,000 Israeli Jews.
The EU joined the conflict in 1980 by recognising Palestine's right to self-determination in the Declaration of Venice. In 1986 the EU went further by enacting a regulation that allowed Palestinians in the occupied territories to export products to Europe under the label "Made in the West Bank and Gaza".
The EU deepened its involvement in the peace process, offering financial support to the embryonic Palestinian authorities, following the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. The EU maintains that any peace settlement must respect the original borders from 1967, which would allow the Palestinians to establish their national capital in East Jerusalem. This position has provoked strong opposition from Israel.
In December 2010, 26 former EU leaders, including Javier Solana and Helmut Schmidt, called for Israel to be sanctioned for its continued construction of colonies.