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Is Israel Losing its European Friends?

Following the August 26th ceasefire in Gaza, Palestine has asked the United Nations Security Council for a complete Israeli withdrawal from all Palestinian territory which has been occupied since 1967. The draft resolution calls for “calls for full withdrawal of Israel, the occupying power, from all of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, as rapidly as possible and to be fully completed within a specified timeframe, not to exceed November 2016, and the achievement of the independence and sovereignty of the state of Palestine and the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.” It also asks for humanitarian aid with regard to the recent military conflict in the area, the opening of Gaza’s borders, and a cessation of all Israel military operations within East Jerusalem, which they declared the capital of their sovereign state. 

Meanwhile, the new Swedish Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Löfven announced on October 3rd that Sweden would officially recognize the state of Palestine, making the country the first in Western Europe to give Palestine official recognition. “The conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be solved with a two-state solution, negotiated in accordance with international law,” said Löfven in his inaugural address at the Parliament. He added, “the two-state solution requires mutual recognition and a will to co-exist peacefully. Sweden will therefore recognize the state of Palestine.” Löfven’s center-left minority government has not specified when or how.

Although this news was very welcomed by the growing Muslim population in Sweden and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, a State Department spokesperson from Washington cautioned Sweden and called the new government’s decision “premature”.  Israel reacted with more hostility in a statement issued by the Foreign Affairs bureau the following Sunday. According to their Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, “the Swedish prime minister needs to understand that any declaration and any step by an external element will not be an alternative to direct negotiations between the sides and to a solution that is part of an inclusive arrangement between Israel and the Arab world.” Lieberman called on the newly elected prime minister “to focus on more burning problems in the region such as the daily mass-killings going on in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.”

On the other hand, the Swedish proclamation has definitely aroused debate in the rest of Europe. Just last week, the British Parliament passed a 274-to-12 non-binding resolution to recognize the state of Palestine. Although technically speaking, the vote is just symbolic – the Prime Minister, David Cameron, abstained, and it has no effect on government policy per se – it clearly reveals a shift in the perspective of the British Parliament towards a more pro-Palestine approach. Israel’s embassy in London commented upon the vote: “Premature international recognition sends a troubling message to the Palestinian leadership, that they can evade the tough choices that both sides have to make, and actually undermines the chances to reach a real peace.” France announced on the next day that it will support the idea of a sovereign state of Palestine should it not be solely symbolic, but helpful to the peace talk.

The Israeli embassy in London warned that this international trend of acknowledging the autonomous status of Palestine would contradict what has been historically asked of Israel and the Arab nations – to end the conflict through negotiation. It is still questionable whether Palestine will be granted the resolution in 2016. It may come down to United States, Israel’s most powerful ally, who has veto power within the Security Council – which they have exercised in the past to veto Palestine-related resolutions. In order to advance their effort at the United Nations, American political activist Noam Chomsky argued that Palestine should work on addressing the opinion of the American general public. “I think there will be no significant progress in this conflict until pressure from the American population induces the government to take a different stance,” he said.

In all, some European governments, including Ireland’s Upper House that are evidently catching up to the public opinion, especially ensued by the recent Israeli massacre of over 2100 Palestinians, and the rise in Muslim population and their voices within Western Europe. Borrowing the words of Sir Richard Ottaway from the British House of Commons who said he had been pro-Israel for years, “to be a friend of Israel is not to be an enemy of Palestine. I have to say to the government of Israel that if they are losing people like me, they will be losing a lot of people.”

Image License: Some rights reserved by Montecruz Foto

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